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More Syrians Flee to Turkey After Troops Retake Northern Town

Syrian refugees carry food supplies donated by Turkish villagers across the border to fellow Syrians still stuck in Syria, near the village of Guvecci, Turkey, on the border with Syria, June 13, 2011

More Syrians fled to refugee camps in Turkey Monday after Syrian military forces took control of the rebellious northern town of Jisr al-Shughour. Activists say about 7,000 Syrians have sought sanctuary across the Turkish border.

Syrian government TV showed images of burned-out cars and buildings in Jisr al-Shughour Monday, claiming that army troops captured the town from “armed gangs” and were welcomed by residents with open arms. The state TV showed old women kissing the newly arrived soldiers on their cheeks.

Town residents who fled to nearby Turkey, however, told a different story. They say government troops destroyed many of their houses, burned fields of wheat, and killed their cattle. Witnesses say the Army’s Fourth Brigade under President Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher, led the fight to retake the town.

Dissident soldiers who said they were protecting civilians in Jisr al-Shughour appear to have fled before the army’s arrival. Syrian state TV said one soldier and two armed men were killed as government forces moved in early Sunday, backed by tanks and helicopters.

The town had been under a tightening noose for several days, after the government accused armed gangs of killing security personnel there.

Syrian opposition activists say that 1,300 civilians have been killed nationwide in the government crackdown which began in March against protesters demanding political reform and the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

In Libya, rebel forces claim to have gained ground, despite heavy artillery barrages, on the outskirts of the port city of Misrata. Al-Jazeera television also showed footage of fighting in the Western Mountains, claiming that the rebels now control the towns of Zintan and Yafran.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied rebel claims Sunday that they had taken parts of the oil port of Zawiya, 25 kilometers from the capital Tripoli. A rebel victory in Zawiya would cut the coastal road between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, a key supply route.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle met rebel leaders in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi and announced that Germany now recognizes the rebel Transitional National Council as the “sole and legitimate representative” of the Libyan people.

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