‘Bullets were raining from everywhere’
Hikmat was one of the few remaining residents in Jisr al-Shughour when the Syrian army rolled in, firing wildly and at will.
“They didn’t care what they were shooting at,” said the 39-year-old, who was hit in the foot as soldiers finally delivered on a week-long threat to wreak havoc in the town that dared rage against the regime.
Jisr al-Shughour has now been sealed off by 15,000 troops – backed by tanks and helicopters – who are operating with impunity.
Hours after being wounded, Hikmat fled for the Turkish border.
He said “many, many” people from the town of more than 40,000 had fled to the rolling hills between Jisr al-Shughour and the safety of the Turkish border.
Those who have crossed the frontier are shedding increasing light on three days of bloodshed that have changed the face of the Syrian revolt. Until now there have been few voices able to speak out about what was left behind in Jisr al-Shughour or the events leading up to last weekend’s carnage.
The Syrian Information Ministry said the bloodbath had been caused by armed gangs, which attacked the military and killed 120.
Interviews in recent days
tell of a crackdown far more brutal than any other seen since the first uprising three months ago, although protests have been met with ever-increasing force by President Bashar al-Assad.
Last Monday Samir, 27, had just returned from a funeral for a local man, Bassil Musri, killed the day before by security forces.
“We were gathered in a large garden at the centre of town. I was the first one shot. They had taken positions in every government building surrounding us.”
Samir’s body was riddled with bullets. He is bleeding internally and is racked with infection. He may not survive. “The gunfire was from everywhere,” he said, lying in a hospital bed in Antakya in Turkey. “So many people fell. It was a massacre.”
Samir said trouble had been brewing for days. Strangers had been gathering information on demonstrators – especially those the regime had flagged as agents provocateurs.
“We had been campaigning for freedom, for our rights, just like everyone else. They say we had weapons. Believe me, if we had I would have been the first to use one.”
In the same hospital, Abu Tahar, 29, an ambulance driver from Jisr al-Shughour, was being treated for gunshot wounds to his back. “Bullets were raining from everywhere. It was chaos.” He said up to 10,000 people had gathered in the garden, one of the few large public places in town, to protest at the killing of Musri.
“They just kept shooting and shooting. Earlier in the week we had been told not to go to pick up the wounded. They wanted them to die there. Anyone who tried was shot, his body falling on top of the other victim. That is what happened to me.”
Samir said he had been among a group that had captured two men who had been acting as government informants.
Samir’s account matches those of six other Jisr al-Shughour citizens who last week all spoke of foreigners – perhaps Iranians – who were standing alongside Syrian soldiers during the clashes.
The presence of Iranian troops would raise the stakes in a revolution that is steadily drawing in neighbouring states. Turkey said it is dealing with 4300 refugees and expecting many more. Lebanon, too, is facing an influx of people fleeing eastern Syria.