Fighting in Syria kills 40 near Jordan border

Troops backed by armor kill 20 people in assault on Khirbet Ghazaleh, bordering the Golan Heights; a similar number of Assad's soldiers killed in fighting, activists say.

Syrian Tank 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian Tank 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At least 40 Syrians were killed in fighting on Monday between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and insurgents in a town near the border with Jordan, local activists said, in 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.
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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.