THOUSANDS of elite Syrian troops were heading to the border last night after Turkey announced it would accept refugees fleeing the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
One pro-government Syrian newspaper said the army was preparing a “very delicate” operation while other elements of the state-controlled media conceded the government had lost control of parts of the north.
Human rights worker Mustafa Osso said witnesses told him thousands of troops were moving towards Idlib province.
He said many of the forces were from the army’s 4th Division, which is commanded by President Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother Maher.
The younger Assad also commands the Republican Guard, which protects the regime and is believed to have played a key role in suppressing the protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year.
“The number of soldiers is in the thousands,” Mr Osso said.
He speculated that the government planned a “decisive battle”.
As the UN Security Council considered a draft resolution to condemn Syria’s crackdown, more than 1600 Syrians crossed into Turkey or positioned themselves near the border.
“About 1000 more people have arrived and the total is now around 1600,” a Turkish government official said last night.
Many of the refugees were from the northern city of Jisr al-Shughour, where the government claims 120 security officers were killed by armed gangs this week. Protesters claimed the deaths were due to a mutiny among security forces.
Those fleeing Jisr al-Shughour feared the army was preparing revenge.
Many Syrians have set up tents near the border in case conditions in Syria deteriorated.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said yesterday: “It is out of the question for Turkey to close its doors to refugees coming from Syria.”
Turkish television showed injured Syrians being taken by ambulances to hospitals in Turkey.
Human rights groups estimate that 1100 people have been killed since the uprising began against the Assad regime in March.
Britain, France, Portugal and Germany presented a new draft resolution calling for an immediate end to the violent crackdown, but Russia and China said they might veto the resolution as they were concerned it could be
the first step towards military intervention.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Anyone who votes against that resolution or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience.”
People fleeing the violence said the army had cut water supplies to towns such as Jisr al-Shughour.
One woman said the government had also poisoned water in Jisr al-Shughour.
Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported major tensions had broken out in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria after leaders of Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine encouraged Palestinians to try to breach the Israeli border.
The paper said that when the caskets of 20 of those from the camp who were killed on Sunday were brought back to the camp, anger spread at the decision to send them to the border.
It said the Jibril organisation has been close to the Assad regime but the 20 deaths had created a split with the Palestinian refugees.