Syrian Forces Kill 20 as France Criticizes Crackdown

Posted September 8th, 2011 at 12:40 am (UTC-5)
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France has accused Syria of committing “crimes against humanity” in its ongoing crackdown on dissent, as activists said Syrian security forces killed at least 20 people during raids against anti-government protests.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe condemned the violence Wednesday, saying international sanctions against Syria are justified. He met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and urged Russia to take a stronger stance against Syria. Lavrov said his country still favors using dialogue to resolve the unrest.

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

A coalition spokesman said Syrian security forces backed by tanks swept into Homs early Wednesday, and that a “complete military assault” took place in several neighborhoods in the flashpoint city.

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.”