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Syria faces US pressure to stop crackdown

Jun 14, 2011

The US has renewed calls on Syria to halt
its crackdown on anti-government
protests.
Damascus says its forces are pursuing rebels
through the countryside around Jisr al-
Shughour, after consolidating control over
the northern town.
Witnesses say troops are pursuing a
"scorched earth" strategy in the area,
destroying houses and crops.
The government insists it is tackling armed
groups which it says have been targeting
security forces.
Condemning the crackdown, White House
spokesman Jay Carney said: "President
[Bashar al-]Assad needs to engage in
political dialogue. A transition needs to take
place. If President Assad does not lead that
transition, then he should step aside," he
told reporters.
"What happened there over the weekend
and what continues to occur is absolutely
revolting, and we condemn these barbaric
acts in the strongest possible terms," State
Department spokesman Mark Toner also
said.
Refugees and activists still inside Syria said
troops and tanks were cutting off and
attacking villages to the east and north of
Jisr al-Shughour, leaving a trail of
devastation in their wake.
They are also reported to be heading
towards the town of Maarat al-Numan, to
the south-east, where the state media had
reported attacks on government buildings
and security headquarters in recent days.
As demonstrations against the regime
continue to break out, often at night, in
many parts of the country, activists report
that several parts of the coastal city of
Latakia have been sealed off by troops,
reports the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.
Soldiers are also reported to have been
deployed at Deir az-Zor, in the east, and in
some suburbs of Damascus, where protests
continue.
Infighting
On Sunday, troops were confronted by other
soldiers trying to defend people in Jisr al-
Shughour, according to Syrian refugees who
have crossed into Turkey.
Elements from one tank division had even
taken up positions by bridges leading into
the town in a bid to defend it, they said.
"There is now a split within the army and
you have a group who are trying to protect
the civilians," one refugee told the AFP news
agency.
The government says it has been trying to
restore order after 120 security personnel
were killed in Jisr al-Shughour last week.
Residents say they died after a mutiny and
fighting between security forces.
Syria has prevented foreign journalists,
including those from the BBC, from entering
the country, making it difficult to
independently verify reports from there.
'Miserable' conditions
Hundreds of Syrians have been massing on
the border with Turkey, preparing to cross
over if the army advances.
Turkey has already taken in thousands of
refugees.
The BBC's Jonathan Head on the Turkish-
Syrian border says these people have been
badly frightened and do not want to return
home until the Assad regime falls.
They have been in the border area for
several days without proper shelter or food,
he adds.
In central Syria, people have told BBC Arabic
that a protest has taken off in the city of
Hama and is heading to the government
headquarters in the city.
About 2,000 people are participating in the
march, organised by lawyers' and
engineers' associations.
This is the first such protest called for by the
professional groups since the beginning of
the protests in Syria.
And according to sources close to the Arab
League, some member states have
introduced a draft resolution to suspend
Syria's participation in meetings of the
group's council, in protest at the crackdown.
Protests against President Assad, who
succeeded his father Hafez in 2000, began
in mid-March.
Human rights groups say at least 1,300
people have been killed in the crackdown.