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At least 5,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey as the Assad regime is crushing Jisr al-Shughour after soldiers and police officers refused to fire on civilians. More and more stories are coming out of soldiers defecting and security personnel being executed for disobeying orders. These fissures in the military bring the threat to the Assad regime to a new height.
The U.S. is now defining the situation in Syria as a “humanitarian crisis” as the death toll approaches 1,500. The regime refuses to allow the International Committee for the Red Cross access, and Assad is ignoring phone calls from the U.N. Secretary-General. The Turkish government has turned on Assad, condemning the “atrocity,” and is preparing to host 10,000 refugees. The Turkish military is considering measures to “control and manage” the situation near Jisr al-Shughour, which is only 12 miles away from the border. Turkey may declare a buffer zone that could potentially extend into Syria.
President Bashar Assad has deployed the Republican Guards under the command of his brother, Baher, to Jisr al-Shughour. This is the regime’s most reliable force as it consists of recruits from the Allawite minority that Assad belongs to. The city became the focal point of the conflict recently after the regime claimed that “armed gangs” murdered 120 members of the security forces there. The opposition says that the truth is that they were executed by the regime for refusing to kill protesters.
The regime began a brutal offensive against Jisr al-Shughour, even using helicopters to attack its population. A “scorched earth” strategy is being employed. The city is blockaded, people are being shot in the streets, houses are being demolished, and crops are being burned up. Only about one-tenth of the 50,000 people who lived there remain. On Saturday, an army captain and 15 of his soldiers defected. An activist also reported that a lieutenant-colonel and 150 of his men about 10 kilometers west of the city have switched sides to unite with the residents of Jisr al-Shughour. About 60 soldiers that defected stayed in Jisr al-Shughour as the city was taken over this weekend. One resident who fled to Turkey said that four tanks switched sides and he saw fighting between military forces.
Videotaped testimonies of soldiers who have abandoned the army and fled to Turkey are streaming out of the country. One officer named Ali Hassan Satouf said, “They are killing my people, whether they are Christian, Allawite or Sunni. We are in the army to defend them against the Israeli enemy. It’s not the job of the army to kill our people, our families.” An officer from the 11th Battalion, Hussein Harmoush, said that the last straw for him was the “massacre” in Jisr al-Shughour.
“I announce my split from the Syrian army and I am joining the Syrian youth alongside a number of the free Arab Syrian army. Our current aim is the protection of the protesters who are asking for freedom and democracy,” Harmoush said on tape. He called on members of the security services to protect civilians and property from destruction.
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