White House: Pressure building on Syria's Assad

Troops backed by armor kill 20 people in assault on Khirbet Ghazaleh, bordering the Golan Heights.

By REUTERS
November 15, 2011 07:00
2 minute read.
anti-Assad protests near Homs

anti-Assad protests near Homs_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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The White House said on Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad was increasingly isolated and reiterated Washington's position that he had lost his legitimacy to rule and should go.

"It is clear that the Assad regime is continuing to be isolated, that the political pressure on them is building," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest a day after 40 Syrians were killed in fighting between Assad loyalists and insurgents near the Jordanian border.

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Local activists called the deadly clashes the first case of major armed resistance to Assad in the region.

They said troops backed by armor killed 20 people -- army defectors, insurgents and civilians -- in an assault on Khirbet Ghazaleh in the Hauran Plain, and in fighting that ensued near the town. A similar number of troops were killed, they added.

The troops attacked Khirbet Ghazaleh, 20 km (12 miles) north of the border, on the main highway between Amman and Damascus, after army defectors attacked a security police bus at a highway intersection near the town, the activists said.

"Members of the (defectors') brigade fought back when the army attacked and Beduin from nearby villages also rushed to help Khirbet Ghazaleh," said one of the activists, who gave his name as Abu Hussein.



The Hauran Plain, an area of flat farmland that also borders the Golan Heights, was the first outlying area to erupt in street protests against Assad's autocratic rule at the start of the uprising in March. Tanks and troops have been deployed across the region to crush the revolt since then.

The fighting came as pressure on Syria to halt the bloodshed in the country increased on Monday.

Jordan's King Abdullah told Assad on Monday he should step down and the European Union added pressure with more sanctions after the Arab League's surprise decision to suspend Damascus for its violent crackdown on protests.

Syria looks ever more isolated, but still has the support of Russia, which said the Arab League had made the wrong move and accused the West of inciting Assad's opponents.

The anti-Assad unrest, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere, has devastated Syria's economy, scaring off tourists and investors, while Western sanctions have crippled oil exports.

Jordan's King Abdullah said Assad should quit. "I believe, if I were in his shoes, I would step down," he told the BBC.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said the League's decision, due to take effect on Wednesday, was "an extremely dangerous step" at a time when Damascus was implementing an Arab deal to end violence and start talks with the opposition.

Syria has called for an emergency Arab League summit in an apparent effort to forestall its suspension.

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