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Assad's fighters go in hard but Syrians remain defiant

SYRIAN troops stormed a town near the Turkish border yesterday, burning houses and arresting dozens as they attempted to crush the uprising.

Tanks and armoured personnel carriers swept into Bdama, just over a mile from where thousands of refugees have crossed into Turkey following the regime's crackdown.

Saria Hammouda, a lawyer in Bdama, said: "I counted nine tanks, 20 jeeps and 10 buses. I saw (gunmen) setting fire to two houses."

At the same time, anti-government local co-ordination committees raised their estimate of the death toll from Friday's protests to 19.

The British Foreign Office yesterday urged its citizens to leave Syria immediately as the situation in the country continued to deteriorate.

Bdama is close to Jisr al-Shughour, which was recaptured by President Bashar al-Assad's security forces last Sunday.

The regime's offensive has forced thousands of civilians to flee the area, with many now camped in a terrifying limbo in a no-man's land on Syria's border with Turkey.

Among them are Abu Abdu and his family, who fled their village near Jisr Al-Shughour.

Mr Abdu said: "The soldiers killed the animals, set light to the crops and shot at people working the land for no reason. It did not matter whether you had done anything wrong or not."

He said security forces had poisoned the water and that the water and electricity supply had also been cut. He also spoke of rapes and people disappearing after being rounded up.

Mr Abdu and his fellow refugees live in fear of the arrival of Syrian troops.

"If the soldiers come we will run for our lives," he said.

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His son, who is four, is covered in small scabs, the result of living rough for more than a week without even the most basic of amenities.

Mr Abdu said he and his family were dependent for food on supplies smuggled across the Turkish border.

"Without food from Turkey, we would simply die of hunger," he said.

Over the brow of a hill a few miles away, refugees said Syrian troops had blocked roads to stop more people or supplies arriving.

Yet despite the onslaught, the mood remained defiant.

On Friday, hundreds of refugees gathered beneath the hot sun to protest against the regime. Clapping loudly, some of them chanted "Assad out" and "Give us our freedom".

© Telegraph

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