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Syrian troops strike flashpoint town as refugees recount violence

The assault on the restive northwest town of Jisr al-Shughur may prove to be a pivotal moment in the rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

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False rumors spark moment of joy

Even though the prospect of more violence loomed in Syria, joy erupted momentarily across the main camp for Syrian refugees in Turkey, upon rumors that the Assad regime had fallen.

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On Friday, more than 2,500 refugees leapt up with screams of delight, and arms raised and with smiles on their faces converged at the center of the camp.

The refugees shouted "God is great" repeatedly, as Turkish police raced to complete the hanging of a tarp blind along the camp fence, to prevent journalists seeing the celebration – or anything else – among the tents inside.

Soon enough, however, reality sunk in that not only was Assad still in power, but he had ordered pro-regime forces to recapture their hometown.

"If I can get Bashar al-Assad, I will strangle him with my own hands," says a refugee from Jisr al-Shughur who would only give his name as Abu Ali.

"Everywhere, in all these cities, it is the same like what happened in 1982," he says, referring to the brutal Syrian crackdown in Hama to put down the Muslim Brotherhood uprising. That assault killed between 10,000 to 40,000 people. “Israel hasn't even done this to the Palestinians."

Refugees kept from journalists

Though Turkey has said its doors are “open” to the refugees, local police and authorities have been ordered to prevent journalists from having any contact with the refugees, who have frequently made clear their desire to tell their tales of brutality at the hands of Assad loyalists.

Three separate camps had sprung up by Friday, with the Turkish Red Crescent making preparations for many thousands more said to be in villages just inside the Syrian border.

The Syrian government denies any brutal actions throughout the weeks of protest.

"The only instance where security forces have fired is when they have been fired at," Syrian government spokeswoman Reem Haddad told Sky News. "How have these people been killed for goodness sake if no one is firing at them?"

Syrian state-run media said that residents of a village six miles from Jisr al-Shughur had greeted advancing soldiers with roses, cheese, and yogurt.

A resident of one village near the town, named as Ahmed Ali, told state TV that "we are very pleased to see the army who came to rescue us from those criminals," according to an Associated Press translation.

Such claims were at odds with the fearful narratives given by refugees in Turkey, 57 of whom have so far required medical treatment, mostly from bullet and shrapnel wounds.

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