Syrian Forces Kill 20 as France Criticizes Crackdown

Posted September 7th, 2011 at 9:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Activists say Syrian security forces have killed at least 20 more people during new raids against anti-government protests, while the French foreign minister accused Damascus of committing “crimes against humanity.”

Syria's opposition coalition said the majority of Wednesday's deaths took place in the central Homs region.

A coalition spokesman said a “complete military assault” is taking place in several neighborhoods in the flashpoint city. He said Syrian security forces, backed by tanks, swept into Homs early in the day. Phones and Internet service were cut off in many parts of the city.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe condemned Syria's ongoing crackdown Wednesday, saying international sanctions against Damascus are justified. He commented in Moscow during a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. While Juppe urged Russia to take a stronger stance against Syria, Lavrov said his country still favors using dialogue to resolve the strife.

Also Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, should back away from his violent crackdown on protesters and enter talks with the opposition.

During a live interview in Tehran with a Portuguese television station , the Iranian leader said “a military solution is never the right” one. He said problems must be dealt with through dialogue.

Earlier this year, Iranian security officials used tear gas and electric batons to disperse anti-government protesters in Tehran. Scores were arrested. And at least 72 people were killed during the crackdown on protests after Iran's disputed 2009 presidential elections. Iranian authorities also arrested hundreds of people and sentenced more than 80 of them to prison.

Meanwhile, President Assad's government delayed a planned Arab League visit expected to begin Wednesday. The league said Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby now plans to visit Syria on Saturday.

Elaraby has said he wants to express Arab concerns about the violence in Syria and listen to the opinions of Syrian leaders. Last month, Syrian authorities rejected an Arab League statement calling for an end to the bloodshed.

The United Nations estimates 2,200 people have been killed since March after Mr. Assad launched the crackdown on dissent. However, Syria has blamed much of the violence on armed gangs and “terrorists.”