By Jonathon Burch
REYHANLI, Turkey, March 21 (Reuters) - Like most demonstrators in the crowd, Syrian university student Muaz Jaban was undaunted when soldiers began firing on their anti-government protest in his northern hometown of Ma'arra last week.
So the commanding officer ordered tanks to open fire.
Now lying in a Turkish hospital bed barely a kilometre from the Syrian border, the 22-year-old student of Arabic literature stares blankly at the bandaged stumps that were once his legs.
"We saw the tanks pull into town. In front of them were soldiers. First, the soldiers started firing on the protesters, but we stayed where we were," said Jaban's uncle, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals on family at home.
"There was a high-ranking officer there with stars," he said, tapping his shoulder with three fingers. "He gave the order for the tanks to open fire."
A tank fired one shell straight into the crowd killing three people and wounding at least 10, the uncle said. Jaban's left leg was severed near his pelvis and his right leg just below the knee.
MORE THAN 8,000 KILLED
Unable to mutter more than a few words, Jaban listens intently as his uncle retells his story. He grimaces as his uncle lifts the blanket to reveal what is left of his legs. Fluid weeps from his wounds and stains the bedsheet beneath him.
Whether from the effects of the painkillers, shock or a mixture of both, Jaban's vacant gaze shows that reality has not yet sunk in. His trauma bears chilling testament to the increasingly violent nature of the conflict raging inside Syria.
The year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which started as a peaceful protest movement, has drawn a brutal response from his security forces and there are now clashes on a daily basis around the country.
The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed so far and the toll is rising rapidly. Thousands more, like Jaban, have been wounded in the conflict which Damascus portrays as an insurrection by foreign-backed terrorists.
The violence does come from both sides. Advocacy group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday condemned tactics of opposition fighters, saying rebels in Syria had kidnapped, tortured and executed security personnel and supporters of Assad.
Reports from Syria cannot be independently verified as the authorities deny full access to rights groups and journalists.
Jaban is one of scores of wounded Syrian civilians and rebel fighters being treated in Turkish hospitals in Hatay province along the Syrian border.
Refugees sneak into Turkey day and night, scrambling through barbed wire fencing at unofficial border crossings. There are some 16,500 Syrian refugess now in Turkey with 200 to 300 people now crossing every day.
Turkey has raised the possibility of creating a "buffer zone" inside Syria to protect the fleeing civilians, among options it could take if the stream of refugees turns into a flood.
Jaban was taken to the Turkish border by rebel fighters, sometimes by vehicle, sometimes carried on a stretcher, to avoid the army checkpoints. He was finally passed through the barbed wire border fence on Sunday to a waiting Turkish ambulance.
His uncle says Assad's forces are still occupying his hometown and the surrounding Idlib province, which borders Turkey.
"The tanks are still there. Everyone is under fire," he said. As he speaks, Jaban slowly lifts his hand and pretends to pull a trigger with his finger as if to illustrate his uncle's point.
Asked if he wants to say anything, Jaban shakes his head and points two of his fingers to form a victory sign, a trademark symbol of the Syrian uprising and other "Arab Spring" revolts.
In the bed next to his, lies 36-year-old Mohammad. Unlike Jaban, Mohammad is a fighter in the Free Syrian Army, the ill-equipped opposition force battling Assad's military. He was wounded in a gunbattle with Syrian troops in the city of Idlib a month ago.
With his gaunt frame and bandaged body, Mohammad, who gave only one name, does not match the image of a fighter. He describes himself as a civilian who was just protecting his community.
"The tanks started firing on the city at 5:30 in the morning. The roofs on the houses started to cave in. They did not stop firing until lunchtime," he said.
"It was the same the next day but this time they continued until 7 p.m. On the second day, they entered the centre of the city. Whoever got in their way, they fired on them."
Mohammad was shot twice in the abdomen and once in his right arm, shattering the bone. He received rudimentary treatment in Syria a month ago and was then smuggled into Turkey on Sunday, by fighters using blankets as a stretcher.
But after he receives surgery on his arm and abdomen, Mohammad has no plans of staying in Turkey.
"We don't want to stay here. I want to go back. As soon as I can, I will go back to Syria," he said.
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS