Syrian Army Takes Over Town Near Turkish Border

The Syrian army has moved into the town to restore security. Earlier this week, Syrian officials said 120 security personnel were killed there. Many residents have already fled across the nearby Turkish border, or have taken refuge in Syrian border villages.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep.

We find out what's happening in Syria, one grain of information at a time. That's because journalists are largely being kept out of the country. Today's bit of information comes from a town on the northern border.

WERTHEIMER: It's the town where 120 security police were killed this week. Syria blames protesters. Other accounts describe police battling each other. They could not agree on how to stop the antigovernment protests.

INSKEEP: Yesterday, we heard that people were fleeing that northern town, expecting a crackdown by approaching army forces. Now the army has arrived.

And we have the latest from NPR's Deborah Amos, monitoring the situation from Beirut.

DEBORAH AMOS: More than 2,000 Syrian refugees have crossed the border into Turkey. Eyewitness accounts are emerging of defections in the security police that resulted in a reported 120 deaths in Jisr al-Shughour.

A 21-year-old Syrian policeman said he saw five officers killed on the spot when they refused orders to shoot unarmed protesters. Ahmed Gavi gave his name to a Turkish newspaper. He said he escaped across the border with 60 other officers.

Gavi said a fire-fight broke out among the more than 200 policemen gathered to carrying out an operation against the protesters, which is why so many were killed. His account cant be independently verified, but other refugees are giving similar descriptions.

The Syrian government has responded with overwhelming force in other towns, where reports surfaced of army or police defections, say activists in contacts with the protest movement.

In Jisr al-Shughour, refugees say that helicopter gun ships were used for the first time, against street protesters last weekend in a particularly harsh crackdown.

The Syrian government announced the start of military operation today, but the town of Jisr al-Shughour is mostly empty as frightened and wounded residents continue to stream into Turkey.

And Turkeys prime minister, he described Syria's assault on protesters as savagery. It's the toughest language yet from one of Syria's closest allies.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.

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