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Middle East
Turkish FM: 'Syrian army still in key towns'
Witnesses dispute government reports that security operations have ended in Deir ez-Zor and areas of Latakia.
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2011 06:42

Syrian state media says security forces have withdrawn from the city of Deir ez-Zor and key areas in Latakia, however witnesses have rejected these claims.

Convoys of army vehicles were seen leaving Deir ez-Zor after the military cleared the area of "armed terrorist gangs", SANA, the state-run news agency, reported. Footage showed pictures of crowds chanting and cheering as the soldiers left.

But on Wednesday, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister said Syrian troops were still in the city. Witnesses also said troops have not yet withdrawn.

"We stress the necessity that the army withdraws and ends the military campaign. I can confirm that Deir ez-Zor is still witnessing problems and the army is in Deir ez-Zor and other towns," he said, speaking at a news conference in Istanbul with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh.

Witnesses on the ground also disputed the government's announcements, Al Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh said on Wednesday, reporting from Ramtha, on the Syria-Jordan border.

"[They said] a lot of the tanks have been moved to other suburbs on the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor, but did not exit completely ... They basically provide these accounts that challenge these statements from the Syrian government."

Activists also told Al Jazeera that gunfire was heard near Freedom Square after Ramadan prayers on Tuesday night, where two people were reported to be killed.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that one person was killed when security forces opened fired to disperse an anti-government protest in the city when "hundreds of people" marched in Takaya street.

Residents said tanks were still present at the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor and that troops were raiding houses looking for wanted dissidents. Activists say at least 32 people have died since troops seized control of the city last Wednesday.

'End' of operation

Meanwhile, Syria's interior ministry said security forces had completed their operation in the al-Ramel al-Janoubi neighbourhood of the coastal city of Latakia, which had been subjected to a four-day assault that activists say has left at least 36 people dead.

Brigadier General Mohammad Hassan al-Ali said al-Ramel al-Janoubi, which houses a Palestinian refugee camp, "is recovering and the citizens are practicing their normal life that was spoiled by the acts of the terrorist groups," SANA reported.

However, "activists told us that on Tuesday night and early on Wednesday morning, specifically at 8am local time on Wednesday, heavy gunfire was heard across neighbourhoods in Latakia and that two Palestinians were killed on Tuesday night," Shamayleh reported.


Regional powers have turned up the pressure on Assad

Hundreds of security services also raided homes in the the city on Wednesday, the AFP news agency reported.

The SOHR told the AFP that more than 700 members of the security services took part in the operation in the southern district of Ramel, arresting people on lists.

"Heavy gunfire continued in most opposition neighbourhoods" overnight, the group said.

In Jabal al-Zawya, a village in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, security forces shot dead a man standing on his balcony, the SOHR told AFP.

Dawn raids

Security forces in Damascus carried out dawn raids in Rukn Eddin district, known to be a predominantly Kurdish area, where electricity was cut off, and arrested dozens of activists. Scores of others were arrested overnight on the outskirts of the capital.

el-Shamayleh said activists confirmed that dozens were arrested in Damascus and that two huge protests took place in two Palestinian refugee camps in the capital to demonstrate against the shelling of al-Ramel refugee camp in Latakia.

On Wednesday, Switzerland widened sanctions against the Assad regine, adding 12 more individuals to a
list of key players under financial embargo and travel restriction, the AFP reported.

Western diplomats said the UN's top human rights body is likely to hold an urgent meeting next week to discuss the escalating crackdown in Syria, according to the AP news agency.

Spotlight
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Syria's key regional ally Iran warned on Tuesday that any Western intervention in the "internal affairs" of Damascus would stoke "public hatred" in the region. 

Reuters news agency reported that Russia's top arms exporter said on Wednesday it intended to continue selling weapons to Syria, despite calls from the United States for Moscow to halt its weapons trade with Damascus.

The crackdown in Syria has escalated since the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, when nightly prayers became the occasion for more protests against Assad and 41 years of Baathist rule.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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