syrian protests_311 reuters.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
BEIRUT - Syrian troops killed at least three people as they swept into a coastal city on Saturday, activists said, in a crackdown on protests against President Bashar Assad which drew criticism from an international Muslim group.
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The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, adding its voice to growing Arab pressure on Assad, called for the immediate halt of the military campaign against protesters which activists say has killed 1,700 civilians in five months.
Saturday's killing in the Mediterranean city of Latakia came a day after security forces shot dead 20 people during nationwide marches in which demonstrators called for Assad's overthrow and vowed defiantly they would "kneel only to God".
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were killed and 15 wounded in heavy gunfire after around 20 military vehicles entered the Ramle district of Latakia, on the Mediterranean coast.
Soldiers backed by loyalist militia known as shabbiha were also deployed in the city's Sulaiba district, the group's head Rami Abdel Rahman said. "They are arresting dozens of people," he said, adding many people were fleeing the assault.
Troops and shabbiha killed one person in the town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, and made arrests in nearby Jousiyah village, he said. The bodies of four people arrested during an assault last week in the Houla Plain, north of Homs city, were returned to their families, he added.Muslim body calls for end to bloodshed
Since the start of Ramadan in early August,
Assad has stepped up the military campaign, launching army assaults on
the central city of Hama and the city of Deir al-Zor in the eastern
Sunni Muslim tribal heartland. Assad's family, which has ruled Syria for
41 years, is from the minority Alawite sect.
After a wave of Arab criticism of Damascus last week, the Saudi
Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) accused Syria on
Saturday of using "excessive armed force" and called on Damascus to stop
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu urged Assad "to exercise
utmost restraint through the immediate halt to the use of force to
suppress popular demonstrations."