Activists Say Clashes in Northwestern Syria Kill 5

Posted October 13th, 2011 at 9:20 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists say clashes between government security forces and armed men believed to be army defectors have killed five people near the Turkish border.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting Thursday came as government troops raided the northwestern town of Binnish in Idlib province.

The activists say there were reports of explosions and heavy machine gun fire in the town.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has used military force to try to crush months of opposition protests calling for his departure, including operations against military defectors.

EU diplomats say the European Union Thursday agreed to freeze assets of the Commercial Bank of Syria in its latest round of sanctions aimed at pressuring Mr. Assad's government to end the violence.

The addition brings to 19 the number of entities the EU has imposed sanctions on for supporting the Syrian government.

The United Nations human rights office say more than 2,900 people have been killed during the government's crackdown. Syria has blamed much of the violence on “armed gangs” and “terrorists.”

In London, Britain summoned Syria's ambassador to discuss allegations of Syrian intimidation of protesters in Britain who are demonstrating against President Assad. British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament Thursday that harassment of demonstrators in Britain is unacceptable.

The summons comes a day after the United States announced it has charged a Syrian-born U.S. citizen with spying on anti-Assad protesters in the United States. Syria immediately issued a statement denying that the suspect was working for Damascus.

U.S. officials Wednesday said Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid also has been charged with providing information to Syrian agents about protesters in the U.S. and Syria. That information allegedly was to be used to silence, intimidate and possibly harm the protesters.

The Justice Department said Soueid, a resident of Leesburg, Virginia, was arrested on Tuesday. If convicted, he faces maximum prison terms of 15 years on conspiracy and foreign agent charges, 15 years on weapons purchase charges and 10 years on false statement charges.