Activists Say Syria Troops Storm Northwestern Town

Posted August 11th, 2011 at 4:55 am (UTC-5)
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Right activists say Syrian security forces have stormed a northwestern town near the Turkish border.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops in tanks and buses arrived Thursday in Saraqeb and that gunfire has been heard in the area.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Details of events in Syria are difficult to independently confirm because the government allows very few foreign news reporters into the country and restricts their movements.

At least 12 people were killed Wednesday as Syria's government widened its crackdown on dissidents, including 11 after security forces moved into the central city of Homs.

The United States announced new sanctions on Syria, saying it would freeze U.S. assets of a bank and mobile phone operator. The White House reiterated that Syria would be “better off” without Mr. Assad.

Also Wednesday, Britain's deputy ambassador to the United Nations said Syria is carrying out an offensive against its people that is “brutal and unwarranted,” but Syria rejected his remarks.

Philip Parham spoke to reporters on behalf of the four European countries on the U.N. Security Council, after the council was briefed on the situation in Syria by U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.

Parham said 2,000 mostly unarmed civilians have been killed in Syria, and some 3,000 have “forcibly disappeared.” He accused Syria's regime of committing “gross” human rights violations, and said there will be no progress as long as security forces continue operations against civilians.

He also warned that the Security Council will consider more ways to pressure Syria if it does not end its crackdown on opposition protesters. The council strongly condemned Syria last week.

Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Ja'afari, called Parham's remarks inaccurate and misleading. He said Parham ignored important progress by Syrian officials, including assurances by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of his commitment to reform.

President Assad is facing growing international condemnation for his crackdown on dissent. But he has defended the crackdown, saying it is a national duty to deal with what he called “outlaws” who block roads and, in his words, “terrorize” people.

On Wednesday, a delegation consisting of U.N. Security Council members India, Brazil and South Africa met with Syria's foreign minister . The group expressed “grave concern” about Syria's unrest and called for restraint and respect for human rights. The delegation said Mr. Assad assured them of his commitment to reforms and acknowledged that his security forces had made some mistakes in the initial stages of the unrest.