Syrian Forces Begin Operations in Northern City

Posted June 10th, 2011 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian state television says the nation's army started operations on Friday to “restore security” in the northern city of Jisr al-Shughour near the Turkish border.

State television says the army moved to gain control of the city at the request of residents, who the report says asked the military to arrest “armed gangs” the government says killed 120 security personnel earlier this week. Residents had earlier said loyalists soldiers had attacked troops who defected or refused to fire on civilians following a pro-democracy rally in the city last week.

Witnesses said troops and tanks had amassed outside the city on Thursday. But activists say most of Jisr al-Shughour's 50,000 residents had fled for Turkey before the operation began.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists called for new demonstrations Friday against Mr. al-Assad's government. Rights groups say at least 1,100 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown that began in March and more than 10,000 people arrested. In Geneva, the Red Cross called on Syria to give it “meaningful access” to those who have been wounded or detained.

Also Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he talked with the Syrian leader in the last few days, pressing him to reform his government. Mr. Erdogan called the Syrian crackdown “unacceptable” and described the treatment of the bodies of women killed by security forces as an “atrocity.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday more than 2,500 Syrians have entered his country and Turkey says it has no intention of closing its borders. The influx prompted Turkish authorities to set up three camps to handle the crisis.

Residents said thousands more people have escaped to nearby villages just inside Syria and are prepared to cross into Turkey at any time.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts are unfolding at the United Nations.

Russia said Thursday it opposes a U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning Syria for its crackdown on anti-government protesters. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevick says Syria's unrest does not pose a threat to world peace or security.

He commented a day after European members of the Security Council presented a revised resolution calling for an immediate end to the violence in Syria and for humanitarian access. It also urges Syria's government to enact genuine political reforms.

Separately, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused Syria of trying to “bludgeon its population into submission” with its crackdown on protesters. Navi Pillay said Thursday it is “utterly deplorable” for any government to deploy tanks, artillery and snipers against its people.