|Over 1,600 civilians have been killed since March amid violence at nationwide pro-democracy protests [Reuters]
At least 11 people have been killed when Syrian forces backed by tanks stormed a town near the capital Damascus, Syrian human rights campaigners said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said four tanks and a bulldozer entered Kanaker, 30km southwest of Damascus, on Wednesday while 14 other tanks surrounded the town in the latest crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
The rights group said residents threw stones and set fire to tyres in an effort to block the advance of the troops.
Citing witnesses, another rights group - the Syrian National Organisation for Human Rights, which is headed by Ammar Qurabi, an opposition figure - said military intelligence agents also arrested 300 people in the town and took them away in 11 buses.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian authorities who have expelled most foreign journalists from the country, making it difficult to verify witness accounts of events and official statements.
The crackdown came as two organisations in France threatened to file legal complaints against al-Assad and other members of the ruling Baath party in a bid to push the French government to investigate whether they own any assets in France.
Sherpa and Transparency International France said in a statement on Tuesday that they want the government to make public all of its findings.
Possible asset freeze
The statement came as the European Union considers stepping up sanctions on the Syrian government over its brutal crackdown on a four-month-old uprising.
"The objective is get an investigation open that would then identify assets that they may own in France either in their own name or through intermediaries and then to freeze them so they are not transferred to unco-operative jurisdictions," the two organisations said.
More than 1,600 civilians have been killed and about 20,000 others imprisoned by Syrian security forces in the clamp down on nationwide protests since March, according to rights groups.
UN human rights advisers say the crackdown could amount to crimes against humanity.
The EU has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on al-Assad and other Baath officials. It also targeted companies with links to the Syrian military.
France has led efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on pro-reform protests. It has also pushed for tougher sanctions against al-Assad's government, saying he has lost his legitimacy.
The uprising is the biggest challenge to al-Assad's rule since he succeeded his father as president 11 years ago.
As international condemnation heightens against the regime, the US has also denounced Syria's army as "barbaric" and "reprehensible", renewing its charges that al-Assad has lost legitimacy.
The US state department also highlighted the death of Talhat Dalat, a 12-year-old Syrian boy, who human rights activists said died on Saturday after a policeman shot him at close range during an anti-government rally.
Victoria Nuland, a US state department spokeswoman, said in a statement on Monday: "The behavior of Syria's security forces, including other such barbaric shootings, widescale arrests of young men and boys, brutal torture, and other abuses of basic human rights, is reprehensible."
Avaaz, an international rights group, has revealed the identities of 2,918 Syrians whose whereabouts are uknown after being arrested by security forces since protests first erupted in March.
Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, said: "Hour by hour, peaceful protesters are plucked from crowds by Syria's infamously brutal security forces, never to be seen again."
Mamoun al-Homsi, a Syrian opposition activist, believes that the next stage in the the revolution will be the "gravest" with an intensified crackdown - as the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reportedly backed offering $5.8bn in aid to Syria to bolster its position in the face of growing dissent.
Tehran's financial support, also reported by a Tehran think-tank, came after the Washington Post, citing unnamed US officials in May, said there was an influx of Iranian manpower, including advisors and trainers, flowing into Syria.
That aid includes not only weapons and riot gear, but also sophisticated surveillance equipment that is helping Syrian authorities track down dissidents.
Al-Homsi also pointed out that there are new forms of "terrorist acts" exercised by the authorities against the people to counter rising military defections.