Syrian troops seize village near Turkish border

June 18, 2011

Syrian troops deploying tanks and heavy machine-gun fire took over a village in the country’s northwest Saturday, activists said, bringing Syria’s military closer to the Turkish border in an apparent bid to block an escape corridor to Turkey for refugees and defectors.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the takeover of the village of Bdama, just a few miles from the border, will stop food and water from reaching about 2,000 displaced people in the mountains on the Syrian side.

Clashes between troops and anti-government protesters in the area began about two weeks ago and have forced thousands to flee their homes. More than 10,000 Syrians are sheltering in Turkish refugee camps across the border, rights groups say.

According to a witness in Bdama reached by phone, Syrian troops with six tanks, 21 armored personnel carriers and 15 cars flowed into the village Saturday morning, detaining people and firing heavy machine guns. By early afternoon, the village was surrounded.

Jamal Saeb, a resident, said the military had two motives for the move against Bdama: “First, to stop people from crossing the border to Turkey, and second, to stop us from receiving provisions — food, medical supplies and bread — for refugees.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, formerly one of Syria’s most reliable regional allies, switched his position on the Damascus government’s crackdown on dissent after refugees began to flood into his country in recent days. He described the government’s actions as “barbarity,” prompting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to send a senior envoy to Ankara for talks.

Turkish media also have reported that Turkey is considering setting up a buffer zone for Syrian refugees along the countries’ mutual border. Analysts and Turkish officials have dismissed the reports.

The three-month-long uprising in Syria — the most significant challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year rule — shows no signs of ending. Assad, 45, assumed power in 2000 after his father died. Many Syrians had hoped the transition would be accompanied by modernization and an easing of autocratic rule.

But Assad has instituted few reforms during his 11-year tenure, and after the deaths of more than 1,250 people in the uprising, many now say they believe he is willing to kill as many people as it takes to keep his grip on power. It is unclear how many people have been injured, since most are afraid to go to hospitals, according to Human Rights Watch.It is unclear how many people have been injured, since most are afraid to go to hospitals, according to Human Rights Watch.

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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