Residents forced to flee as Syrian troops storm town
HEAVY clashes between Syrian army troops and gunmen in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour were reported last night.
"Heavy confrontations are raging between army units and members of armed organisations taking up positions in the surroundings of Jisr al-Shughour and inside it," Syrian TV reported.
"Two members of the armed organisations were killed, large numbers of them arrested, and lethal weapons in their possession were seized," it said, adding that army units had defused bombs and explosive charges planted by gunmen on the bridges and roads of the town.
Tanks and helicopters shelled and machine-gunned the town yesterday in a drive to crush an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that has led thousands of refugees to flee to Turkey.
Forces commanded by Mr Assad's brother Maher stormed the town from the south, residents said, copying tactics used in other cities to suppress street protests demanding political freedom and an end to Mr Assad's autocratic rule.
"They are using up to 150 tanks and armoured vehicles. Jisr al-Shughour is small and there is not even space to park all this armour. The shelling is non-stop now. Two helicopters are flying overhead and firing machine guns," a resident said.
"Most people have escaped toward Turkey. I heard that a small group of army defectors may have remained because they felt that they had to defend the honour of Jisr al-Shughour, but they must be martyrs by now."
There had been large demonstrations in the strategic town, built among hills on the road between Syria's second city Aleppo and the main port of Latakia.
The Syrian government said "armed gangs" killed more than 120 security personnel last week in the town of 50,000, 25 miles from the Turkish border.
Refugees and rights groups said the deaths were of mutinous soldiers, shot for refusing to fire on civilians.
Bassam, a tiler, fled to Turkey as troops were closing in on his home town. He said troops burned wheat crops in three villages near Jisr al-Shughour in a scorched-earth policy aimed at crushing the resistance of people in the area who have joined the protests.
Witnesses said more than 4,000 Syrians had crossed into Turkey and up to 10,000 had taken shelter among trees near the border. (© Daily Telegraph, London)