Tanks shell Syrian town, West piles on pressure

Tel Kelakh death toll rises to 27 civilians; Tanks pound border town for fourth day; US, EU say they plan new steps on Syria.

Tank Syria Deraa 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tank Syria Deraa 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Tanks bombarded a Syrian border town for the fourth day on Wednesday in a military campaign to crush protests against President Bashar Assad, under mounting Western pressure to stop his violent repression of demonstrators.
Troops went into Tel Kelakh on Saturday, a day after a demonstration there demanded "the overthrow of the regime", the slogan of revolutions that toppled Arab leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and challenged others across the Middle East.
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Assad had been partly rehabilitated in the West over the last three years but the United States and European Union condemned his use of force to quell unrest and warned they plan further steps after imposing sanctions on top Syrian officials.
Human rights groups say Assad's crackdown has killed at least 700 civilians. Authorities blame most of the violence on armed groups backed by Islamists and outside powers, saying they have also killed more than 120 soldiers and police.
"We're still without water, electricity or communications," a resident of Tel Kelakh said, speaking by satellite phone.
He said the army was storming houses and making arrests, but withdrawing from neighborhoods after the raids. In a sign that the army was coming under fire in the town, he said some families "are resisting, preferring death to humiliation".
Syria has barred most international media organizations from operating in Syria, making it hard to verify reports from activists and officials.
Prominent human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouna said the army and security forces have killed at least 27 civilians since the army moved into Tel Kelakh.
The state news agency SANA quoted a military source saying eight soldiers had been killed on Tuesday in Tel Kelakh and in the southern rural Deraa province where protests first broke out exactly two months ago.
It said five of the dead were killed when an "armed terrorist group" fired on a security forces patrol near Tel Kelakh, which is close to Lebanon's northern border.
The Tel Kelakh resident said artillery and heavy machinegun fire hit the main road leading to Lebanon overnight, as well as the Abraj neighborhood inhabited by minority Turkmen and Kurds.
"Most residents of Tel Kelakh have fled. Some remaining people tried to escape to Lebanon yesterday but the shelling has been too heavy," the resident said.
"Abraj residents have issued a call to (Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip) Erdogan to help them. But it is like the drowning hanging on to a straw," he said. Erdogan said last week 1,000 people have been killed in Syria's unrest, and has become increasingly critical of Assad.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday France and Britain were close to getting nine votes for a resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council, but Russia and China were threatening to use their veto.