'Syrian forces kill five, storm towns in north and west'

Tanks, armored vehicles enter towns along Turkish, Lebanese borders; at least 100 reportedly arrested, 16 wounded in armed raids.

Tank sits in Hama, Syria_311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tank sits in Hama, Syria_311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian forces killed at least five civilians when they stormed a town near the border with Lebanon on Thursday, activists and a rights group said, in an escalating military campaign to crush dissent against Syrian President Bashar Assad across the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had the names of five killed and 16 wounded during morning raids by security forces backed by tanks on the town of Qusair, near Lebanon's northern border, following a night of protest after Ramadan prayers calling for the removal of Assad.
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The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union said it had the names of nine killed, including one woman and a baby, from random gunfire by the attacking forces, who also cut off electricity and communications on Qusair.
Also on Thursday, 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.
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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