WATCH: Amateur videos show smoke rising from the port city of Latakia, Syria, where government troops have reportedly been conducting a military operation against opposition protesters since August 13. (Video provided by AP)
The United Nations says thousands of Palestinian refugees have been forced to flee their camp in the Syrian city of Latakia as government troops continue to shell the besieged town.
Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, said on August 15 that the Palestinians fled after the northern port city came under fire by gunboats cruising off the coast and ground troops attacking Latakia over the weekend.
Gunness said at least four people were killed at the refugee camp, and he called for immediate access to the site. "We are extremely concerned about the situation in Latakia, where more than half the refugee camp, between 5,000 and 10,000 people, have fled," he said.
"They fled incoming fire from gunboats, they fled incoming fire from the land and security personnel told them to leave," he added. "We are saying to the Syrian government we want immediate humanitarian access to tend to the sick, to tend to the dying and to get our programs up and running."
Speaking in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Abed Rabbo called the attack on the refugee camp "a crime against humanity," adding that "we share the same goals and aspirations with the Syrian people to achieve freedom and dignity."
Syrian activists say at least 27 people have been killed in Latakia in the military operation that began on August 13 -- though the U.S. State Department said on August 15 that it was unable to confirm whether the Syrian Navy had shelled the city.
The assault has provoked international condemnation, including a rebuke from Syria's Arab neighbor, Jordan.
Turkey Says Operations 'Cannot Be Excused'
On August 15, Turkey -- Syria's former close ally and neighbor -- called on Damascus to immediately halt military operations against protesters or face unspecified consequences.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who traveled to Syria last week to urge Assad to end the bloodshed, has said the violence "cannot be excused" and "should stop immediately and unconditionally."
He added that if these operations do not cease, "there will be nothing left to say about the steps that would be taken."
But despite the outcry, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have continued their months-long crackdown on nationwide protests calling on Assad to step down.
Security forces stormed the area of Simakayeh near the Syrian-Lebanese border, activists based in northern Lebanon told the dpa news agency.
Dpa quoted Omar Idlibi as saying that "the heavy shelling could be heard across the border because Simakayeh is very close to Lebanon."
Syrian border guards arrested Syrian families trying to flee Simakayeh into northern Lebanon, a Lebanese security source told the news agency.
Amnesty International says some 1,700 civilians have been killed since the antigovernment uprisings begun across Syria in mid-March. Rights activists claim at least 12,000 people have been imprisoned during the protests.
Damascus says 500 members of security forces have been killed during the violence.
The reports cannot be verified as Damascus has barred most foreign media and international human rights groups from entering the country since the uprising began.
compiled from agency reports