Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, facing the gravest crisis of his 11-year rule, deployed the army for the first time in nearly two weeks of protests after 12 people were killed in the northwest port city of Latakia.

Dozens have died in pro-democracy protests in the southern city of Deraa and nearby towns over the last week in violence the government had blamed on armed groups.

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Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told Al-Jazeera that Syria’s four-decade old emergency law would be lifted, but she did not give a timetable or offer any more details. Officials said Assad – who has made no direct public comment since protests began – would address the nation Sunday night.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official expressed concern Syria has enlisted help from Iran and Hezbollah in cracking down on the protests, Army Radio reported Sunday.

According to the official, Syrian protesters said they had heard some of the security forces employed in dispersing the protests speaking Farsi.

The official reportedly said he expects to see further signs of Iranian involvement over the coming days.

“Syria is an Iranian asset, and it is clear Iran is afraid its investments will go down the drain. It has therefore allowed for greater involvement than in other Arab countries,” he said.

Deputy Galilee and Negev Development Minister Ayoub Kara said Sunday that should Assad attack the Druse population in Syria, Israel would not sit with its “hands folded.”

Kara, a Likud lawmaker who is Druse, said in a statement he is concerned Assad could “attack the Druse in Aleppo as was done in the past. He needs to know that in that case we will not sit with our hands folded.”

Kara’s comments came on the same day that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting not to speak publicly about the situation in Syria. If they must do so, he said, they should first coordinate their message with the Prime Minister’s Office or Defense Ministry.

One government official said it was clear that Kara was “expressing his own opinion, and not that of the government.”

Kara said he was already hearing support for the Syrian opposition among Golan Druse who “for years were afraid to express opposition to the Assad regime.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the United States deplored the bloodshed in Syria but a Libyastyle intervention should not be expected.

“Each of these situations is unique,” Clinton said on the CBS News program Face the Nation. “We deplore the violence in Syria, we call as we have on all of these governments ... to be responding to their people’s needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests and begin a process of economic and political reform,” she said.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a policy paper released Thursday that the US needs to pursue a more muscular course on Syria.

“The Obama administration has based its Syria policy on facilitating peace talks between Syria and Israel,” he wrote. “The time has come for Washington to develop a hybrid policy in two senses: first, by denouncing human rights abuses in Syria as well as promoting the peace process, and second, by introducing negative incentives into the mix of engaging Syria in the peace process. More than anything, this week’s protests show that Assad only truly changes tack when he is under pressure and facing dilemmas.

“By holding the Assad regime accountable for its commitments, Washington has the best hope for influencing Assad’s domestic policies for the better, avoiding further bloodshed, and fostering a real peace between Syria and Israel,” Tabler wrote.

The state-run SANA news agency reported Sunday that Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told visiting Chinese officials that Syria is committed to achieving a “just and comprehensive peace” in the Middle East.

Without mentioning Israel by name, the news agency reported that an agreement between the neighboring countries must be based on “international resolutions, the Madrid Conference terms of reference and the landfor- peace principle.”

The agency also reported that Bahrain’s king had phoned Assad to express the support of his country – itself in the throes of months of sectarian unrest – for Syria’s efforts “in the face of the conspiracy targeting its security and stability.”

In another step to placate protesters, Syrian authorities released a lawyer, Diana Jawabra, along with 15 others who were arrested for taking part in a silent protest demanding the release of the children responsible for anti-government graffiti in Deraa. The move came a day after the announcement of the release of 260 political prisoners, most of them Islamists.

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Soldiers took to the streets of Latakia on Saturday night to help secret police and security forces control the port, residents said. The army also bolstered checkpoints around Deraa, where Human Rights Watch says 61 people have died.

“There is a feeling in Latakia that the presence of disciplined troops is necessary to keep order,” one resident said. “We do not want looting.”

Syria’s establishment is dominated by members of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam to which the Assads belong, a fact that causes resentment among Sunni Muslims who make up some three-quarters of the population. Latakia is mostly Sunni Muslim but has significant numbers of Alawites.

“An official source said attacks by armed elements on the families and districts of Latakia in the last two days resulted in the martyrdom of 10 security forces and civilians and the killing of two of the armed elements,” SANA reported.

The source said 200 people, most of whom were from the security forces, were wounded in clashes. Rights activists told Reuters at least six people were killed in Latakia in two days.

Asked about security forces opening fire, government spokeswoman Reem Haddad told Al-Jazeera on Sunday: “The security forces were given very strict orders not to shoot at anyone, and they did not shoot at anyone at all until those people shot at them and at other citizens.

“Now obviously when you have people shooting then it becomes a matter of national security and you can’t just have that happening,” she said.