The Guardian reports:
Syrian troops have moved closer to the Turkish border as they sweep through villages north of Jisr al-Shughour, rounding up hundreds of people they claim are linked to armed gangs.
Turkey was on Monday assembling a fifth refugee camp in its southern border towns, but with the number of Syrians who have crossed the boundary topping 7,000, these camps may not be sufficient to deal with the fast-increasing number of people in need of help.
“There are 7,000 people across the border, more and more women and children are coming towards the barbed wires,” said Abu Ali, one of those who left Jisr al-Shughour. “Jisr is finished, it is razed,” he told Associated Press.
The Syrian colonel sat cross-legged on a patch of moist soil, in a borrowed plaid shirt and pale green trousers, surrounded by dozens of men who had fled from the besieged northern Syrian city of Jisr al-Shughour to an orchard a few hundred meters from the Turkish border. He says his name is Hussein Harmoush, and shows TIME a laminated military ID card indicating that and his title. Everyone around calls him moqadam, the Arabic for his rank. A colonel with the 11th Armored Division of the army’s 3rd Corps, the 22-year military veteran said he burnt his uniform in disgust more than a week ago, starting with the rank designated on his epaulettes, and then the rest of it.
“I defected from the Syrian Arab army and took responsibility for protecting civilians in Jisr al-Shughour,” he says. “I was late in taking this decision.” His lower lip quivers. He struggles to maintain his composure. After a long pause, and several deep breathes, the man with the thinning salt-and-pepper hair resumes: “I feel like I am responsible for the deaths of every single martyr in Syria.”
There have been growing reports of Syrian military defections in recent weeks, after regime loyalists escalated their attacks in the northwest of the country. On June 5, units of the army reportedly defected en masse in Jisr al-Shughour, and used their weapons to defend unarmed protesters. Some 120 security personnel were killed in the mutinous clashes with loyalists, according to residents and rights activists, although Damascus denies a mutiny and says the deaths were at the hands of “armed gangs” wearing stolen military uniforms.
Although foreign journalists are banned from reporting in Syria, TIME managed to get across the Turkish border along steep mountainous terrain to reach thousands of refugees, most from Jisr al-Shughour, staying in open fields and orchards on the outskirts of the Syrian town of Khirbet al-Jouz.
Harmoush, a native of the Syrian city of Homs, some 160 kilometers from the capital Damascus, says his orders were clear. His division was told to leave its base in Homs and “sweep the towns,” starting at al-Serminiyye and continuing five kilometers north to Jisr al-Shughour. “We were told that we were doing this to capture armed gangs, but I didn’t see any. I saw soldiers indiscriminately shooting people like they were hunting, burning their fields, cutting down their olive trees. There was no resistance in the towns. I saw people fleeing on foot to the hills who were shot in the back.”