Syrian forces 'kill six' in crackdown

Activists say many others wounded in fresh offensive amid reports of 'widespread defections' by Syrian forces.

    Syrian security forces have killed at least six people and wounded dozens in raids across the country, as tanks and armoured vehicles rolled into various flashpoint areas, according to human rights groups.

    A child was among five people killed when troops and security forces opened fire during search operations in the Sarmin district of the northwest province of Idlib, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR] said on Monday.

    A sixth person was killed when security forces raided his home at dawn in the town of Qara outside Damascus during an arrest operation, the Syria-based Local Coordination Committees reported.

    "There are many wounded because of the indiscriminate shooting in the streets," Rami Abdulrahman, the head of SOHR, said.

    He said some 40 people, whose names were on a "wanted list", were detained.

    Syrian forces have killed a former officer who played a key role in coordinating defections from the military, according to opposition activists.

    There have been consistent reports of some units refusing to fire on protesters, but the crackdown has continued.

    'Widespread defections'

    Opposition activists say security forces have also surrounded the central town of Rastan after reports of 'widespread defections' by soldiers there.

    A video posted on video-sharing website YouTube, which Al Jazeera cannot independently verify, appears to show 12 army officers switching sides.

    At least 40 light tanks and armoured vehicles, and 20 buses of troops and military intelligence, deployed early on Monday at the highway entrance of Rastan, 20km north of Homs and began firing heavy machine guns at the town, two residents said.

    Activists and residents have been reporting increasing defections in the Syrian army since the demise of Muammar Gaddafi's rule over Libya, Reuters reported.


    They claim there have been desertions in the eastern Deir ez-Zor province, the northwestern Idlib province, the Homs countryside and at the outskirts of Damascus.

    A statement published on the internet by the Free Officers, a group that says it represents defectors, also said "large defections" had occurred in Harasta; the first reported defections around the capital, where President Bashar al-Assad's core forces are based.

    Also on Monday, military tanks and security forces entered the village of Heet in Homs province.

    Heet is located at the border with Lebanon and a Lebanese official confirmed the presence of security forces in the village.

    Meanwhile, in order to limit access to information, three leading members of the opposition have been banned from leaving the country to take part in a TV debate.

    This came as Syrian opposition leaders formed a National Transitional Council in Turkey. It included 42 members who are currently in Syria, and will be led by a prominent opposition figure based in Paris.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has written to Bashar al-Assad saying he still supports the Syrian regime.

    "President Assad received a message this morning from President Dmitry Medvedev, delivered to him by Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister," a Syrian official told AFP.

    Russia and China have consistently opposed any hard posturing against Syria at UN and both the veto-holding countries have threatened to block punitive resolution against the country.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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