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New Wave of Bloodshed Hits Syria as Refugee Exodus to Turkey Continues

June 10, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: A new wave of bloodshed swept over Syria today. Government troops assaulted a northern city and opened fire on huge crowds of protesters elsewhere. At least 32 people were killed, while thousands more ran for their lives.

The rapidly-filling refugee camps tell the tale: an exodus of more than 4,000 Syrians into Turkey in the last 48 hours. They have fled the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who launched a violent crackdown today on a rebellious northwestern city, Jisr Al-Shugur. It’s been the scene of violent resistance and possible military mutiny this week.

Some of those leaving the area and some staying behind told of indiscriminate gun and tank fire, and, quite literally, scorched earth, with troops burning fields and destroying livestock.

ABDULKERIM HAJI YOUSEF, Syria (through translator): Bashar Assad is killing his own people in order to stay in power. He is being cruel.

WOMAN (through translator): May God tear Bashar Assad into pieces. We would be starving if Turkey didn’t help.

JEFFREY BROWN: Turkey’s former justice minister visited the camps today, and said his nation would continue its open-border policy.

SADULLAH ERGIN, former Turkish justice minister (through translator): We are doing every humanitarian thing that is necessary for the people who have sought asylum here and had to come here out of despair. We hope the need for crossing the border from the Syrian side will become unnecessary.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, used stronger words, calling the Syrian crackdown savagery. He said Turkey could no longer support Assad.

MAN (through translator): His secret service is heading towards a massacre. The U.N. Security Council could get involved. And it is already preparing a case against the regime.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the assault by Syrian forces on civilians extended countrywide today, as troops fired on demonstrators after Friday prayers.

There were large protests in Daraa, where the uprising began, in Idlib, in Latakia, in Homs, and, notably, thousands marching in the capital, Damascus. Witnesses reported Syrian helicopter gunships opened fire on crowds in one town.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that kind of brutal response is dooming the Assad regime.

MARK TONER, State Department spokesman: It’s really Assad that’s been — who’s been, you know, shedding his legitimacy through his actions. He has refused to reform, refused to even make any gestures towards reform, other than empty rhetoric. He’s got to, again, either allow for the transition, help the transition take place, or get out of the way.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, a move to denounce Syria at the United Nations remained in doubt, due to Russian objections.