As it happened: Syria army moves on Jisr al-Shughour

Key points

  • Syria's army is moving into the northern town where 120 troops were reportedly killed this week, to "restore order", state TV says
  • Fearing an assault, many residents of the town, Jisr al-Shughour, fled into Turkey earlier as soldiers and tanks took up positions nearby
  • Elsewhere in Syria, three people have reportedly been killed amid renewed anti-government protests across the country

    Good morning and welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the unrest sweeping across the Middle East. Today the focus is on Syria, and we will be bringing you the latest updates on the situation around Jisr al-Shughour, where state TV says the army has begun operations "to restore order" after 120 security personnel were reportedly killed in the northern town this week.


    Operations have also been launched in villages surrounding Jisr al-Shughour - which lies close to Syria's northern border with Turkey - aimed at capturing gunmen, state TV reports. Damascus says there are some 2,000 armed fighters in the area.

    0911: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

    There have been reports of intensive firing around Jisr al-Shughour as troops came up against burning barricades set up by residents to block access to the town. Recent state TV reports add that armed groups have setting fire to crops and forests in the area.


    In recent days more than 2,000 Jisr al-Shughour residents have fled into Turkey fearing an assault, as soldiers and tanks took up positions in the area.


    There has been no word from Jisr al-Shughour residents in the town at this stage, probably because communications and electricity have been cut off in the area. Syria has prevented foreign journalists, including those from the BBC, from entering the country, making it difficult to verify reports from there. We'll bring you reports from our correspondents across the border in Turkey, in neighbouring Lebanon and across the region, as well as the latest reaction from around the world. Do get in touch with your thoughts by text, email or twitter - we'll publish what we can.


    In unusually fierce remarks about its southern neighbour, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Syria is carrying out an "atrocity", Turkish media reports.

    0932: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

    Syrian state TV has been running telephone intercepts of conversations between people inside Jisr al-Shughour suggesting first of all that the place is deserted, but also that armed men have been withdrawn. It could be that the troops will be rolling into a ghost town.


    The unrest in Syria has prompted a split within the UN Security Council, where France and Britain have proposed a resolution to condemn the government's actions. But other nations on the council, including Brazil, China and Russia, say such a resolution - which does not propose concrete action - could further inflame tensions in an already volatile region.


    tweets: Syrian refugees in Turkey say that soldiers have given poisoned water to the people & those that went to hospitals were killed.

    0956: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    Refugees gathering inside Syria preparing to cross into Turkey are waving olive branches as they move towards frontier. One tells the BBC about the fear in Syria and desire for change: "Assad talks of reform but nothing happens. It's up to the people now."


    Three months into Syria's pro-democracy protests, activists have pledged to hold more demonstrations today, with rallies planned in Damascus and elsewhere across the country.


    The action against Jisr al-Shughour is in response to claims by Damascus that armed gangs killed 120 members of the security forces there amid protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule. The government says local residents requested the army's intervention to restore peace and quiet. But dissenting accounts say the violence was sparked by deserting soldiers, and that loyal troops have massacred peaceful civilians.

    Adolf Agbormbai in the UK

    writes: It is high time the international community takes decisive action against Syria. The Syrian government cannot be allowed to continue massacring demonstrators while the world sits and watches. This is irresponsible. It has been argued that the country will descend into chaos with inter-tribal wars without Assad. This argument has become trite from overuse. It was used in Egypt during the demonstrations, yet it is now agreed that this country will be fine.


    Human rights groups say more than 1,100 people have been killed since protests against President Assad's rule began in March, and it now appears several hundred security forces may also have died.

    NOW Lebanon News

    tweets: Phone lines cut off in Jisr al-Shughur, pro-gov gangs burning cultivated fields. (S.N.N.)

    1025: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut
    Reports reaching activist internet sites from people on the ground said there was heavy gunfire at a village near the town where barricades of burning tyres had been erected to block the approach road. 

    US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says Mr Assad's legitimacy has now been called into question by what he calls the "massacre of innocents" in Syria.


    The BBC's Owen Bennett Jones in south-east Turkey, some 12km from the Turkish border, has been interviewing Syrians who fled their homes ahead of today's military operation in Jisr al-Shughour. Few people have felt able to speak, he says, fearing for their lives as and when they return to Syria if they are identified as having spoken to the western media. Those who were prepared to speak, our correspodnent tells the BBC World Service's World Update, say today's assault is what they expected: they thought it would be vicious and they will stay in Turkey to safely watch what happens across the border.


    The number of refugees fleeing into Turkey has been rising fast in the past two days, says our correspondent. Many are being housed in a fenced and tightly guarded Red Crescent camp in the town of Yayladagi, a few kilometres north of the Syrian border. Minibuses have been moving along the road that runs along the border just inside Turkey to pick up people who have just got out of Syria.

    Syrian refugees wait to enter Turkey on the border with Syria on Wednesday As many refugees crossed into Turkey, others hid out in the Syrian countryside, waiting to see what happens

    If you haven't seen Owen Bennett Jones' latest dispatch from just inside the Turkish border, have a look at his report on the plight of the Syrian refugees.

    Jenan Moussa, Reporter for Arabic Al Aan TV

    tweets: This is photo,acc to Al Jazeera, of defected 1st Lieutenant AbdulRazzaq Tlas from #Rastan in #Homs province #syria


    This just in from our colleagues over at BBC monitoring: Syrian TV has been broadcasting interviews with people in Syrian cities such as Idlib and Aleppo expressing their support for the army operation. One man said: ''The army's entrance into this town means stability.'' Another said: ''We thank the Syrian Arab army for coming to protect our children, protect us and guard this country.''


    The International Committee of the Red Cross has called on the Syrian authorities to allow urgent and unimpeded access to all areas affected by the unrest within Syria. "It's extremely alarming that our numerous requests for access to affected areas or detained people have not been granted by the Syrian authorities," says the ICRC's Hicham Hassan. "While it's not possible to get confirmed figures, there's no doubt that hundreds of people have been killed or injured," he tells the BBC's News Channel.

    Malath Aumran in Damascus, Syria

    tweets: Al-Hassaka: A protest has started in Amouda right now. Massive military presence of the Republican Guards in Al-Qaboon at Al-Horani bridge. Friday protest map will be updated as reports come in:

    1133: Jonathan Head BBC News, Istanbul

    For weeks Turkey has used its close ties to the Syrian leader to try to persuade him to embrace reform, while urging the international community to give him time. But after repeated attacks on Syrian protestors by the security forces, the Turkish government has abandoned that approach, becoming increasingly critical. Now, with nearly 3,000 Syrians sheltering inside Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan has made his strongest comments yet, accusing the Syrian government of "unacceptable atrocities".

    1134: Jonathan Head BBC News, Istanbul

    Turkey has a 900-km border with Syria and, in recent years, has heavily promoted trade with its neighbour. Its officials say they fear chaos if Mr Assad is toppled - but they have quietly started helping the opposition, allowing a meeting to take place here earlier this month in which the disparate dissident figures tried for form a more coherent movement. One of Turkey's greatest concerns is that the unrest will destabilize Kurdish areas of Syria - which could then spill over into Turkey's own restless Kurdish community.

    Almuntaser Syria

    tweets: Damascus Suburbs: Zabadani: Hundreds of protesters taking off from Al-Jissr mosque in Zabadani.


    Caabu, the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, is calling for the international community to do more to bring about reform in Syria. "Whilst there may not be many options available to the international community, all efforts must be made to stop the killing of Syrian civilians, not least in northern Syria where the regime has threatened revenge in and around Jisr al-Shughour," Caabu Director Chris Doyle tells the BBC. "It is reform not repression that is needed."


    An eyewitness in the Syrian city of Hama tells BBC Arabic that the authorities removed a statue of former Syrian President Hafez Assad from its usual place in the entrance of the city overnight. It is not known where it was taken. It is worth noting that today is the 11th anniversary of Hafez Assad's death.

    1157: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan says what's happening in Syria is inhumane. But Turkish police are still stopping refugees talking to news teams about it.

    1202: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

    Reports from both sides are saying fields of wheat are burning around Jisr al-Shughour - with each side blaming the other. Heavy shooting has been heard in villages around the town, but it's unclear how much resistance the army will meet inside Jisr al-Shughour itself, amid reports that most residents have already fled.

    Ramzi Hafez in Damascus

    writes: Injustice, oppression and tyranny generate violence; we live in an age where people do not accept injustice and the system of Al-Assad will not last. The Arab League is not being effective in ending the oppression. Assad's family has used the Syrian army, whose members mostly belong to the Baath party to maintain their unjust rule.


    As the suppression of unrest in Syria continues, the International Committee of the Red Cross has demanded immediate access to help the victims of violence, with its president, Jakob Kellenberger, saying he is ready to go to Syria himself if necessary.

    Daram in Hama

    writes: Syria is witnessing vandalism by armed groups and armed attacks on security forces and governmental property. It is the duty of the security forces is to maintain security, which we had in Syria for decades. The damage and destruction caused by the opposition forces is hampering the reform promised by the Syrian regime.


    Ammar, from the coastal city of Latakia, tells the BBC the port city's residents have been swift in helping to distribute food, water and aid to those who have fled the violence in Jisr al-Shughour. "Some have offered to shelter the hundreds of homeless Syrians caught up in the clashes," he says.


    "Meanwhile the government is providing meagre food rations," adds Ammar, who did not want his surname to be published. "The events over the last few days have impacted on thousands of lives, leaving many ordinary citizens at a loss as to how they will rebuild their lives and return home."

    Razaniyat in Damascus, Syria

    tweets: Wow more than 7000 protest in Midan neighborhood (Damascus), regime forces respond to freedom chanters with tear gas. Students are doing excellent job at organizing demonstrations in Aleppo: 2000 students are protesting in Aleppo!

    Free Syrian

    writes: People are wondering about the killing of the 120 security forces, as if this is the main problem. Didn't it occur to anyone to ask about the 1200 Syrian citizens who where killed so far since March. Why suddenly, the killing of the 120 security forces became a crime while the killing of the 1200 Syrian citizens a legitimate act? I wonder wouldn't you protect yourself in case you were attacked?


    Responding to criticism of the current Turkish policy preventing journalists from interviewing Syrian refugees in Turkish camps, a foreign ministry spokesman says: "Initially our concern is about well-being of these people - numbering some 2,800 - but we are planning to let journalists come in eventually." The spokesman, Salim Yenel, tells BBC World News that with no visa requirements existing between the two countries, Syrians are welcome to cross into Turkey, where they will be looked after.


    Reuters is reporting that Syrian troops have opened fire on several thousand pro-democracy protesters in Deraa, the southern city that saw the first anti-government rallies back in March. Many people are said to have been injured.


    Commentators in Syria's state-controlled media have been unsurprisingly outspoken about French-British led attempts to refer Syria to the UN Security Council over its crackdown on protests. "The French-British attempt to take action at the UN Security Council is without doubt an escalation attempt," writes Ali Nasrallah in Al-Thawrah newspaper. "We are aware of the level of the conspiracy, its dimensions and goals\u2026 However, we believe in our power, right and unity and we have confidence in our ability to foil their plots and to make their projects fail."

    Le Shaque, Syrian living in Beirut

    tweets: #Syria TV: Citizens driving food to army in Jisr had their convoy attacked resulting in death of a civilian and a regime security officer.


    Reuters reports that Syrian forces have shot dead two protesters in the southern village of Busra al-Hariri, near Deraa. Syrian TV says a member of the security forces was shot dead by gunmen in the village; residents say no troops died.

    Antoun from Allepo in Syria

    writes: Protests in Syria began peacefully and there are still large segments of the peaceful protesters, but also there is a major segment that uses violence, weapons, and vandalism. The biggest mistake the protesters may commit is to harbour this segment. Describing the protests in Syria as sectarian is more accurate than labeling it as popular. So far the regime remains the strongest link and a large faction of the society still holds to it. We welcome reforms with the regime at the top of it.


    Newspapers in the Middle East are divided over whether foreign intervention should be envisaged after the intensified Syrian crackdown on protests. Have a look at this selection of views, compiled by our colleagues over at BBC Monitoring.


    A witness in Jisr al-Shughour tells BBC Arabic he saw 14 Syrian army tanks "firing randomly". He added: "Anything that was moving in front of them they just shot at."


    More on those reports by Syrian state TV of armed groups setting fire to crops and wheat fields around Jisr al-Shughour: A local resident contacted by AP news agency says security forces themselves have carried out the burnings. It is not possible to verify the account.


    tweets: Lattakia: Very heavy gunfire and sounds of explosions in area of Raml Falastini which is witnessing massive protests. Gunshooting at a huge protest in Bustan Al-Seidawi and Qussour neighbourhoods which neighbour each other


    Reports now say Syrian security forces have shot dead two demonstrators in the southern village of Bosra al-Harir. Anti-government activists say a third protester was shot dead in the capital, Damascus.


    tweets: Only men are left in Jsr Al-Shughur. Children and women have run away. Not really comforting.


    Razan from Damascus, who works with a Syrian human rights forum, tells the BBC they have eyewitness accounts of security forces in Jisr al-Shughour burning corpses. "We cannot verify this but if it is true then it signals the regime will stop at nothing to maintain control," she says.

    Ziad A. Fadel from Michigan, US

    writes: We have family in a town called Hallouz just west of Jisr al-Shughour in the mountains. The village looks over the city. They told us that people are being evacuated from the city in anticipation of a much-awaited and welcomed Syrian army assault on fanatics holed up there. Mr Erdogan's statements, if true, are irresponsible. He ought to know better about what these fanatics can do. Especially since the Turks have fought a much longer and bloodier war against their native Kurds.

    Yousif in Hama

    writes: Last Friday major massacres were committed in Hama that claimed the lives of 70 and wounded tens of citizens. At first the public media have denied the massacre and spoke of a limited number of deaths according to public sources. It also spoke of the presence of gangs who committed vandalism. All citizens of Hama know that the demonstrations were totally peaceful. Protesters were carrying roses while protesting. There has been no vandalism at all.


    Eyewitnesses in the central city of Hama tell BBC Arabic that thousands of protesters are gathering in Al-Aassi Square, the main square in the city centre and there is no security or police presence at all.


    Security forces have dispersed a gathering in front of Al-Hassan Mosque in the centre of Damascus following Friday Prayers, BBC Arabic says.


    The Syrian human rights lawyer and opposition figure Razan Zaitouneh has been speaking to people in Jisr Al-Shughour. She tells the BBC World Service:

    "The army is now about 10 km from Jisr Al-Shughour. Many villages around the city got attacked by the army and the army is burning the crops in these villages right now. I really don't know why they are doing this. On state TV they are accusing people of burning their own land. Who can believe that people will burn their own money, their own land?"

    Ramzi Hafez in Damascus

    writes: Injustice, oppression and tyranny generate violence. We live in an age where people do not accept injustice and the system of Assad will not last. The Arab League is not being effective in ending the oppression. Assad's family has used the Syrian army, whose members mostly belong to the Baath party, to maintain their unjust rule.


    tweets: Friday prayers banned in #Nawa resulting in a mass protest in #Tassil with demonstrators from #Sahm joining as well.


    Nine Baath Party members resign in the city of Idlib, al-Jazeera reports quoting Syrian "sources".

    Aboud in Homs

    writes: This morning just before noon prayers there was heavy gunfire and sounds of shelling at the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr. The army was obviously trying to discourage people in the area from going out to Friday prayers. It didn't work. For the first time ever, the nearby upper middle class neighborhood of Insha'at turned out to demonstrate. They shouted slogans in support of Baba Amr. There was no security presence but gunfire continued during this time at Baba Amr. It goes to show that when the overstretched security forces try to clamp down on an area, another one takes advantage of their absence.


    tweets: Protests counted in 30 location in #Damascus and its suburbs today. #Syria


    London-based human rights activists say five protesters shot dead including two in Deraa - AFP.


    Syrian TV broadcasts what it says is a phone conversation between "members of organised armed groups" in which one man urges the other to pull his fighters out of Jisr al-Shughour and pretend that they are refugees heading for Turkey.


    Two protesters shot dead in the Qaboun district of Damascus, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tells Reuters.


    Syrian state TV has been promoting the army operation in Jisr Al-Shughour throughout the day, broadcasting interviews with Syrians supporting army action as well as short clips glamourising the military. In line with the channel's output over recent weeks, the TV has presented recent unrest as organized and perpetrated by "armed groups", "terrorist and criminal organisations" - BBC Monitoring.


    Demonstrators stage a rally in Damascus in front of the Iranian embassy in support of Tehran's policy towards Syria, holding images of President Assad and Iran's former and current supreme leaders, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Fars news agency reports.


    tweets: The end is near: Today the regime removed a statue of Hafez Assad from Hama so protesters don't destroy it.

    Saifedean Ammous in Beirut, Lebanon

    tweets: Another massive Friday in #Syria & another major blow to #Assad. Even "Middle East experts" are now beginning to realize he's finished.


    AFP reports one person dead in the coastal resort of Latakia, and another near Al-Sirmaniya in Idlib province, quoting human rights activists.


    tweets: The problem in #syria right now is if you have a different point of view you are considered as a traitor. #Mar15


    Turkish leaders have been ramping up the rhetoric. Earlier, Prime Minister Erdogan accused the Syrian government of committing atrocities and said he could no longer defend President Bashar al-Assad. He said he had spoken to Mr Assad in recent days and urged him to embrace reform, but the Syrian response had been inadequate.


    Meanwhile, al-Jazeera is quoting Turkish President Abdullah Gul as saying Turkey is "ready for all scenarios including military ones" to handle the Syrian crisis.


    Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch in Beirut says today has seen the largest protests across Syria in three months of anti-government unrest. A major rally in Damascus came under fire from troops, he says, adding that there was similar violence in Syria's third city Hama and the southern city of Deraa, where the uprising began in March. It is hard to give detailed casualty figures as HRW's testimonies come from people on the fringes of the demonstrations, rather than their front lines, says Mr Houry.


    Despite the difficult in independently verifying reports from Syria, a clearer narrative is emerging regarding the 120 soldiers reportedly killed in Jisr al-Shughour earlier this week. Six injured Syrians who managed to escape to Turkey have told HRW that a number of soldiers defected, prompting other soldiers to open fire on them. "Clearly there was a clash between different factions of the army," says Mr Houry. "All the witnesses we have spoken to deny reports of a third armed group going around shooting at people."


    tweets: Idleb:Persistant random shelling from tanks&heavy persistant gunfire in Maaret Al-Noman&Jarjanaz.dozens of martyrs and wounded ppl n streets


    Crops are burning and heavy gunfire has been heard as the Syrian army continues its operation against Jisr al-Shughour, which the government says is aimed at restoring security in the area. One resident has told the BBC the town itself is all but deserted, with only the poorest people left.


    Meanwhile, at least three people were killed as troops opened fire on renewed mass demonstrations against the government after Friday prayers. As the suppression of unrest continues, the International Committee of the Red Cross has demanded immediate access to help the victims of violence.


    As refugees flock across the border into Turkey, Syria's northern neighbour, until now a staunch ally of Syria, has condemned the "savage" crackdown. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he could no longer defend the actions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


    Thanks for following the breaking news on the Syrian crisis with the BBC. We're going to wind down our minute-by-minute updates on the situation for now, but will continue to bring you the latest developments, reaction and analysis on the BBC News website.


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