Syrian Forces Detain Hundreds Near Northern Town

Posted June 13th, 2011 at 5:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian refugees say Syrian troops have rounded up hundreds of people in sweeps through villages near the rebellious northern city of Jisr al-Shughour while burning crops and slaughtering cattle in the area.

Refugees from among the nearly 7,000 people who have fled into neighboring Turkey said Monday that Syrian forces were combing settlements east of the town and arresting men between the ages of 18 and 40. Others told of a scorched earth campaign with men in black uniforms pouring gasoline on farmlands.

Several thousand more Syrians remain within sight of the Turkish border. Many have brought livestock and other possessions they would have to leave behind if they crossed the frontier.

Syria's state news agency accused “armed terrorist groups” located in Jisr al-Shughour of burning land as sabotage. The government has also alleged the “gangs” killed 120 security personnel.

But residents and soldiers who have deserted said those killed were civilians and security forces who had mutinied, refusing to shoot protesters and joining anti-government demonstrators.

Monday's wave of arrests followed an assault on Jisr al-Shughour by troops backed by helicopter gunships and tanks. Residents say loyalist units led by President Bashar al-Assad's brother, Maher al-Assad, led Sunday's crackdown – which they say was sparked by last week's mutiny.

Syria has banned most foreign journalists, making it nearly impossible to verify accounts of events.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner Monday called Syria's use of tanks and helicopters on its own people “absolutely revolting.” White House press secretary Jay Carney called on Syria to “engage in political dialogue” with government opponents.

Also Monday, state media reported that Syria has imposed a travel ban on a cousin of the president while they investigate earlier clashes in the southern flashpoint city of Daraa.

Brigadier General Atef Najib ran the security department in Daraa, where the uprising erupted in March after authorities arrested 15 teenagers suspected of writing anti-government graffiti.

Western nations have strongly condemned the increasingly brutal repression in Syria, including the use of heavy weapons in Jisr al-Shughour.

U.N. diplomats have discussed a draft resolution condemning the violence but failed to reach agreement. Many Western nations support the measure, but Russia and China have voiced opposition. France's U.N. ambassador said the diplomatic wrangling is costing lives.

Rights groups say more than 1,300 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown that began in March and more than 10,000 people have been arrested.