A wounded Syrian man flashes victory signs before he is carried to an ambulance at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi in Hatay province, Sunday, (Reuters).
The Syrian army has cut off a key border village supplying refugees fleeing to Turkey, closing its only bakery and burning surrounding forests, residents who managed to escape said Sunday.
The security operation in Bdama triggered a new exodus to the frontier, several kilometres away, where thousands have already massed, braving squalid conditions in the open air, undecided whether to cross to Turkey or not.
Ankara announced it was taking urgent food aid across the border for displaced Syrians after sheltering more than 10,500 refugees in tent cities on its own territory.
Speaking near the frontier, witnesses said Syrian security forces had set up checkpoints on roads leading to Bdama, which was now largely deserted.
On Saturday, a line of at least six tanks and 15 troop transporters entered Bdama as part of a major crackdown in the northwestern province of Idlib, according to a Syrian activist.
The crackdown has already resulted in bloodshed in the flashpoint town of Jisr Al-Shughur, from where most of the refugees taking shelter in Turkey had come.
Raka El-Abdu, a 23-year-old Syrian, told AFP that his 14-strong family fled Bdama on Saturday but he was forced to go back Sunday morning to get bread, using mountain routes that only locals would know. He found the village virtually empty.
"They closed the only bakery there. We cannot get bread any more ... I saw soldiers shooting the owner of the bakery. They hit him in the chest and the leg," the man exclaimed. "The army is controlling all the entrances to the village and checking identities to arrest protesters," he added.
Hamid, 26, said he also escaped from Bdama on Saturday with his family after security forces opened fire randomly on the settlement.
"I was outside my house ... They opened fire from far away. We ran into the mountains," he said. "Yesterday morning, they poured gasoline and set the mountains ablaze to prevent people from fleeing," he added.
Hamid's friend, Samir, said residents had begun to flee Bdama several days ago after militiamen and intelligence officers arrived and fired shots in the air. "Only 1,000 people had remained and they left yesterday," he said. "The people who stay behind are the ones who work for the regime."
Samir has been on the run for about a month: he sought refuge in Bdama, his hometown, after fear of persecution forced him to flee the coastal city of Latakia, where he had taken part in anti-regime protests.
Bdama was the lifeline for thousands of Syrians who had flocked to the Turkish border but hesitated to cross, gripped by uncertainty over their future on foreign land and wary to leave behind properties.
They have braved the elements in makeshift shelters of branches and plastic sheets, surviving on scarce food and water from wells.
"Distribution of humanitarian aid has begun to meet the urgent food needs of Syrian citizens waiting on the Syrian side of our border," Turkey's emergency situations agency said in a statement on Sunday. It was the first time Turkey launched a cross-border aid mission.
Abu Muhammad, a white-bearded 47-year-old who has been camping in the border zone for 10 days after fleeing Jisr Al-Shughur, said Turkish aid would be crucial for their survival. "The army is doing that (in Bdama) to strangle us here, so that people go back home either to get killed or arrested," he grumbled. "We are waiting for help from Turkey. Otherwise, we go back and die or stay and die here," he said.
Samir said people were terrified that the Syrian security forces might soon come to clamp down on their makeshift camps. "There are rumours that the militia will come at night and kill us," he said. "Everybody may cross into Turkey any minute."