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Syrians flee to Lebanon amid crackdown

BEIRUT -- Crackling gunfire and explosions echoed through a Syrian border town yesterday, as hundreds of frightened civilians poured into neighboring Lebanon to escape a harsh crackdown against anti-government protests, witnesses and authorities said.

Among those fleeing were two boys, ages 5 and 6, who were wounded during protests, Lebanese security officials said.

They were among more than 5,000 Syrians who have fled to Lebanon in recent weeks as President Bashar Assad's security forces try to crush the protests with gunfire, sieges and even shelling. Human rights groups say more than 800 people have been killed since mid-March.

"I want to die in Syria," one man told Associated Press Television News after he dropped his family off in Lebanon and headed back. Several ambulances were parked on the Lebanese side of the border to take wounded Syrians to hospitals. Gunfire and explosions were heard through the day from Talkalakh, just inside Syria, witnesses said by phone from the area. A military official said gunfire from the Syrian side of the border wounded a Lebanese soldier.

Many Syrians from Talkalakh have relatives across the border in Wadi Khaled in Lebanon, and marriages between Lebanese and Syrians are common. The two countries are separated by a bridge over a small river. -- AP

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