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Clinton slams Damascus, Tehran for bloody crackdown
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER AND REUTERS
06/15/2011
Assad’s forces head for second northern protest town; Turkey says 8,538 refugees have crossed the border, more than half of them children.
 
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a rare joint condemnation of Syria and Iran on Tuesday, linking Tehran to the continued bloody crackdown by Damascus on citizens rising up against the Assad government.

“Today in Syria, Iran is supporting the Assad regime’s vicious assaults on peaceful protesters and military actions against its own cities,” Clinton said in her statement.

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“As we remember the terror and tragedy that accompanied Iran’s crackdown [in 2009], and as we work with the international community to increase the pressure on Assad and his regime, let us renew our resolve to stand with citizens – including the citizens of Syria and Iran – who yearn to be free and to exercise their universal rights.”

Clinton referred to both Iran’s crackdown on protesters who felt President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection two years ago this week was rigged, and the torture and killing of a 13-year-old boy, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, apparently by the Syrian military.

Clinton did not go further than to speak of the US effort to “increase the pressure” on Syria, even as many critics have called for stronger American action and the Syrian government continues to use force against demonstrators.

On Tuesday, Syrian troops used tanks and helicopters to push toward a northern town after arresting hundreds of people in villages near Jisr al-Shughour, residents said, and as more refugees fled to Turkey.

More than 8,500 Syrians have sought shelter across the border to escape President Bashar Assad’s latest military drive to crush protests demanding political change in a country ruled by the Assad dynasty for the past 41 years.

Most of the refugees came from Jisr al- Shughour, 20 km. from the border, where authorities say 120 security personnel were killed by gunmen 10 days ago. Some activists say deserting troops and residents clashed with security forces.

The army retook the rebellious town on Sunday and appeared on Tuesday to be moving toward the town of Maarat al-Numaan, which straddles the main north-south highway linking Damascus with the second city of Aleppo, and has also been the scene of protests.

Othman al-Bedeiwi, a pharmacy professor in Maarat al-Numaan, told Reuters by telephone that helicopters had been ferrying troops to a camp in Wadi al-Deif, several kilometers from the town.

“We met the [provincial] governor today and he assured us that the army will go in only to arrest 360 people it has on a list,” Bedeiwi said. “The people of Maarat, however, are skeptical. My name is on the list to be arrested as being a gunman. I never carried a weapon in my life.”

Turkey has set up four refugee camps just inside its borders and the state-run Anatolian News Agency said on Tuesday authorities might provide more. It said the number of refugees had reached 8,538, more than half of them children.

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Anatolian also reported that Assad phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his election victory two days ago. It said the Turkish leader told Assad to avoid using violence against his people and to launch reforms as soon as possible.

Erdogan, who has had a close rapport with Assad, had said before being reelected that once the election was over he would be talking to Assad in a “very different manner.”

Syrian rights groups say 1,300 civilians have been killed since the start of the uprising in March. One group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says more than 300 soldiers and police have also been killed.

Assad, who inherited power when his father, Hafez, died in 2000, has offered concessions aimed at appeasing protesters, lifting a 48-year state of emergency and promising a national dialogue, but many activists have dismissed those steps.

France, with British support, has led efforts for the UN Security Council to condemn Assad’s repression of the protests, but Russia and China have suggested they might use their veto power to kill the resolution.

“France wants the UN Security Council to take a stance on the intolerable situation in Syria and the lack of restraint being shown by the authorities in Damascus,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

“We regret that a consensus has not been reached within the council,” he added, describing the death toll and reports of torture and rights violations as “catastrophic.”

The West’s response has also been tempered by fears of regional instability if Syria, an ally of Iran and supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, is tipped into turmoil.

The US has urged Assad to lead a transition to democracy or “step aside,” but unlike France it has not declared that Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule.

“What happened there over the weekend and what continues to occur is absolutely revolting, and we condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner, referring to events in Jisr al-Shughour.

Iran accused the US and Israel of “provoking terrorist groups in Syria and in the region to carry out terrorist and sabotage operations.”
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