Military assaults continue across Syria

Reports of seven deaths in Hama and Idlib province as the Turkish foreign minister meets President Assad in Damascus.


    Syria's army is continuing operations in several locations, as the country's leadership is facing increasing pressure to end its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

    At least five civilians were killed during raids on villages around the besieged city of Hama on Tuesday, local activists said.

    The Syrian Revolution Co-ordinating Union said five bodies had been taken to the Jwash hospital in the town of Tibet al-Imam north of Hama, including two girls from the same family, six-year old Afra Mahmoud al-Kannas and 11-year old Sana Ahmad al-Kannas.

    Earlier, a a rights group said two civilians were killed and several more wounded in the northwestern Idlib province bordering Turkey.

    "Operations this morning in Idlib resulted in two deaths and several wounded by security forces' gunfire," the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.

    "Around a dozen tanks and other armoured vehicles attacked the Binnish and Sirmeen areas" of Idlib.

    Asked why Binnish was stormed, a resident who had fled the town told Reuters: "The whole town has been joining in night rallies after Ramadan prayers."

    The Local Co-ordination Committees said the town of Sirmeen was attacked from three sides, with troops carrying out house raids and arbitrary arrests.

    Tanks were also deployed in and around the city of Idlib, following big demonstrations there, the activists said.

    Turkey envoy

    On the diplomatic front, Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, arrived in Damascus to
    press the Syrian leadership into ending the violent crackdown on demonstrations.

    He met President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, days after Turkey, a former close ally and business partner, condemned the violence. 

    Meanwhile, footage was posted online, purportedly showing troops assaulting the town of Albu Kamal, near the Iraqi border, on Monday. The video showed soldiers firing tanks, using rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs against an unseen enemy.

    Opposition sources said up to seven people had been shot dead by security forces on Monday at a funeral in the southern city of Deraa, the cradle of the five-month uprising against Assad's rule.

    The funeral was for a youth who had been arrested earlier this week when he took part in a protest. His body was handed to relatives on Monday with visible signs of torture, according to relatives.

    Abdul Rahman said one of the dead was Maen Yousef Awadat, a leading political campaigner, who had recently been released from prison.

    In the east of the country, the army maintained its siege of the city of Deir ez-Zor, reportedly shelling at least one neighbourhood.

    "Armoured vehicles are shelling the al-Hawiqa district heavily with their guns. Private hospitals are closed and people are afraid to send the wounded to state facilities because they are infested with secret police," Mohammad, a resident who did not want to give his full name, told Reuters news agency.

    He said at least 65 people had been killed since tanks and armoured vehicles entered the provincial capital on Sunday.

    Al Jazeera could not independently verify the reports since most foreign journalists have been barred from entering Syria.

    The Syrian Observatory says more than 2,050 people, including almost 400 members of the security forces, have been killed since the uprising began.

    Diplomatic action

    Assad's government disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest. But those claims have been dismissed by most of the international community, with world leaders ramping up its condemnation of the security forces' actions in recent days.

    India's UN ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters the three countries would be "calling for restraint, abjuring violence, [and] promoting reform, taking into account the democratic aspirations of the people.''


    Lebanese and Syrians living in Beirut rallied in solidarity with the Syrian people on Monday

    Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain on Monday recalled their ambassadors from Damascus amid mounting pressure from the Arab world.

    Qatar withdrew its ambassador from Damascus and closed its embassy in July after Assad loyalists attacked the embassy compound amid protests against Doha-based Al Jazeera's coverage of the uprising.

    Besides Turkey, India, Brazil and South Africa were also sending envoys to Syria to appeal for an end to the violent crackdown.

    Officials said country's representatives were to meet "high-level'' Syrians on Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, Assad replaced his defence minister, Ali Habib, on Monday with illness cited as the official reason.

    State television reported that the Christian chief of staff, General Daoud Rajha, was to take up the post.

    The position of defence minister is a mostly ceremonial post in Syria. The professional core of the military consists of officers from the minority Alawite sect, the Shia offshoot which Assad belongs to, while most of the conscripts are Sunni.

    The military is effectively under the command of Assad's feared brother Maher. Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is deputy chief or staff and diplomats say he plays a key role in the control over the army.

    The European Union imposed sanctions on Habib earlier this month as part of measures against Syria's ruling hierarchy for their bloody crackdown on demonstrations.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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