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Fleeing violence, Syrian refugees warn of potential massacre

As thousands of Syrians crossed into Turkey with tales of violence, many described troops amassing outside Jisr al-Shughur to take revenge for the deaths of 120 security and police forces.

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And if that happens, Turkey is likely to lose some face.

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Faint advice from Turkey

Mr. Erdogan stated Wednesday that Turkey would "keep our doors open to all Syrians seeking refuge," while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had "serious concerns about the situation in Syria." Syria must act "more decisively" on political reforms long-promised by Assad, Mr. Davutoglu added.

But that was faint advice from a nation that has increasingly thrown around its diplomatic weight in recent years, a NATO ally that has become a regional player that has taken on Israel and become closer to Iran.

Turkey's promising diplomatic future appears at risk just 12 miles across the border, where Jisr al-Shughur braces for a new level of retaliation from the regime. Syrian government forces are encircling the town to exact "decisive" revenge for the death of 120 security and police forces during what Damascus called an "ambush" by armed gangs.

Eyewitnesses quoted by wire agencies spoke of a military column of 60 transporters with tanks and armored vehicles, and 10 trucks loaded with soldiers, departed from the city of Aleppo and headed toward Jisr al-Shughur.

Syrian officials have vowed to strike "decisively" against the town. The pro-Assad newspaper Al-Watan reported that the military was now ready to launch an offensive in the province that would last for days. An Associated Press description said the report claimed the military would be battling 2,000 armed gunmen.

Residents were fleeing the area "to give the Syrian army a chance to enter all areas and confront the gunmen."

UN criticizes Syria's actions

Such threats are coming against a background of rising international pressure on Syria.

"We are receiving an increasing number of alarming reports pointing to the Syrian government's continuing efforts to ruthlessly crush civilian protests," said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, today. "It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers."

The problem for Turkey's government is clear in the fine words used to create this alliance in the past.

At a joint press conference in late 2009 in Damascus, for example, Erdogan said: "Syria is our gate to the Middle East, and it is our second home as Turkey is the second home for the Syrians and Syria's gate to Europe."

Assad claimed that the 51 bilateral agreements signed at the meeting would redraw the map of the Middle East, and the two nations had "become ... an example to be followed of brotherly ties between the two people's and countries."

Assad hailed the "strong and common will that we have possessed [to make] joint future."

Praising Erdogan, Assad was speaking for both leaders when he said "whoever respects himself and his homeland gains the support of his people ... and he who uses his cards above the table, not under that table ... gains the respect of the world."

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