Syrian refugee children look out of a window of a bus as they are driven to a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi
Syrian refugee children look out of a window of a bus as they are driven to a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi

A spokesperson for the Local Coordinating Committees in Syria, an activist coalition that organizes protests and documents the government crackdown, announced on Friday morning that there was heavy gunfire in al-Sarmaneyah, a village located five miles from the town of Jisr al-Shoughour and added that people had fled from both towns and much of the surrounding countryside.

It has been reported that in a desperate attempt to slow down the advance of Syrian troops into Jisr al-Shoughour, residents of al-Sarmaneyah started to burn tires in the streets, said the spokesperson.

"The town is under siege by the army and security forces," the committee also said in a statement.

The city of Jisr al-Shoughour first hit the headlines as it became a focal point for anti-government protesters, who gathered in the area and organised demonstrations. However, tensions in the city reached a new high when gunmen allegedly killed 120 of Assad security forces. While the identity of the armed group and the motivation behind the attack remains unclear, inhabitants of the city started fleeing the area en masse on Tuesday as they feared Assad would revenge the deaths of his security forces and launch an attack.

Since then thousands of Syrian refugees have found shelter in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border. As new reports of Syrian forces conducting a brutal crackdown on the city emerged, it seems that their fears were well founded.

The unrest in Jisr al-Shoughour has taken on critical importance for both the Syrian government and its opponents as it illustrates the violent and brutal turn the uprising is taking. Reports say that as soldiers refused to fire live ammunitions on civilian demonstrators, they decided to defect the regime, joined the opposition and turned their guns on loyalist army units.

However while many of the soldiers who defected have apparently fled the town, some civilians remain. The reaction of the Syrian government demonstrates once again that its actions and words are constantly in opposition to one another. While Syrian officials first blamed armed gangs and terrorists for the violence, they have now decided to punish the inhabitants of the city.

Announcing an attack was in preparation, tanks and armed military personnel moved to the edge of the town on Thursday night, and according to the residents' accounts, soldiers appeared to be pitching tents. Other reports suggest that while many women and children had fled, the residents who remained were being stopped at checkpoints, while a thousand men were allegedly holed up.

"They are going to raid the city but we don't know when," said Ahmad, a 28-year-old resident reached by phone who estimated that 100 tanks were among the forces camped at the city's doorstep. "Most of us are not armed. We will be completely exterminated."

The violence in Jisr al-Shoughour has driven more than a thousand people across the border into Turkey, raising the pressure on Syria's embattled government as Turkey, an important economic partner, is forced to confront a flow of refugees that could grow in the coming days.

Human Rights Watch fears more killings in Jasir al-Shughour as eyewitness report hearing shooting near the town.

According to the Guardian, in a Skype interview, Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch's researcher for Syria and Lebanon, who is monitoring events from Beirut, said:

"We managed to get through to someone in a town not far from Jasir al-Shughour and they reported hearing gunshots in a town called Sermaniyyeh. That seems to confirm what Syrian state TV indicated earlier today that the army has started its 'military operation' on Jasir al-Shughour... Based on what's happened over the last three months we are very worried that we are going to see yet again a large number of killings of protesters."

"Based on various testimonies there have been some defections, what we don't know is the scale of these defections. In Egypt and Tunisia the decision of the army to stop shooting at protesters or to refuse orders was key to convincing the regime that it was time to go [but] we have to wait and see what's going to happen in Syria. Things are playing out differently there, the loyalty of the officers in Syria remains clearly with the regime."

Also, on Twitter, Martin Chulov, The Guardian Middle East correspondent, who is in the region, monitoring the events confirmed that "Refugees who crossed into Turkey today say Syrian army operation in Jisr al Shughour started at dawn." He then added that they said there were "Several thousand troops."

The Turkish government authorized the construction of two refugee camps on Thursday, according to the Anatolian News Agency and can accommodate more than 5,000 refugees.

While Turkey is preparing to receive a large influx of refugees from Syria, France and Britain have submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council condemning the Syrian government for using force against civilians. However the measure faces acute resistance from China and Russia and may thus never be put to vote.

While the United Nation High Commissioner for human rights Navi, called on Syria to stop the "assault on its own people", the Arab League has remained silent. As the violence is now gripping the country, Syria risks imploding, and it seems now very uncertain that Assad will be able to recover from the killing of his own people.