'Syrian forces storm town near Turkey border'

Tanks, armored vehicles enter northern province; at least 100 reportedly arrested; "They started firing randomly, storming houses," resident says.

By REUTERS
August 11, 2011 13:48
2 minute read.
Tank sits in Hama, Syria

Tank sits in Hama, Syria_311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

AMMAN - Syrian armored forces on an offensive to crush popular unrest stormed an important town on the main highway in a northern province near the border with Turkey on Thursday and at least 100 people were arrested, a resident and local activists said.

"Around 14 tanks and armored vehicles entered Saraqeb this morning, accompanied by 50 buses, pick-ups and security cars. They started firing randomly and storming houses," said the resident, who fled the town in Idlib province, 50 km (30 miles) southeast of Turkey's Iskenderun (Hatay) province.

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It was the third day of a military assault on hotbeds of anti-government demonstrations in Syria's northern regions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 100 people were arrested in Saraqeb, which has been seeing daily demonstrations demanding the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad after nightly Ramadan prayers.

The protests were also expressing solidarity with Hama, a city of 700,000 people further south that has been besieged by tanks for almost two week.

Syria has barred most independent journalists from Idlib and the rest of Syria, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.

On Tuesday, Syrian forces killed four villagers in Binnish near Saraqeb, rights campaigners said. The following day two people including a woman were killed and 13 injured after tanks and armored vehicles entered the towns of Taftanaz and Sermin, around 30 km (19 miles) from the Turkish border.

The Turkish government, earlier a strong supporter of Assad, demanded this week that he put a stop to the killing of civilian protesters by his security forces and said events in Syria in the coming days would be "critical".

The direct message from Turkey raised pressure on Assad, who said his forces would continue to pursue "terrorist groups".

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