Bloomberg News

Syria on Dangerous Path, U.S. Says as Troops Deployed in North

June 10, 2011

June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Syria is heading down a “dangerous path,” the U.S. said after the government sent troops to the north of the country as protesters intensify demands for an end to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. strongly condemns the government’s “outrageous use of violence” and calls for an immediate end to attacks on anti-government protesters, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said in a statement from Washington late yesterday. “The Syrian government is leading Syria on a dangerous path.”

Syria sent troops to Jisr al-Shughour yesterday, saying they were targeting gangs that terrorized the northern town. Human rights groups say the deployment is part of a crackdown to quell anti-government protests. At least 21 people died yesterday, mostly in Maarat al-Numan, also in the north, after Syrian forces shelled the town, the Associated Press reported.

Syrian security forces have killed more than 1,100 people since protests began in mid-March, human rights groups estimate. About 2,400 Syrians have fled the north since violence erupted there last week and are seeking shelter in neighboring Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on June 9.

Another 1,000 Syrians are still trying to flee the turmoil and cross into Turkey, Cemil Utanc, chief of the border village of Guvecci, said in an interview. Turkey is preparing to accommodate as many as 1 million Syrian refugees, the Istanbul- based Sabah newspaper reported on June 9.

Death Toll

“We have five confirmed deaths,” and the number is expected to increase, Mahmoud Mehri, Damascus-based head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said yesterday by phone. Heavy artillery was used by government forces in the assault on Maarat al-Numan, he said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated 11 people died in yesterday’s clashes.

Attacks on protesters have escalated since the U.S. and European Union placed sanctions on senior officials in Assad’s regime last month.

“In response to the call for help by inhabitants of the Jisr al-Shughour region, units of the Syrian army started pursuing the organized armed groups and arresting some of their members,” Syrian state television said yesterday. The gangs have “terrified” residents, burned public and private buildings, and attacked members of the army and security forces, mutilating their bodies, according to the report.

The government said 120 security personnel were killed in an ambush in Jisr al-Shughour. The opposition said the troops were shot by Syrian police for refusing to fire on protesters.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, earlier this week called on Syria’s government to comply with the UN Human Rights Council’s April 29 request for access for a fact-finding mission. The government hasn’t responded, she said.

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal urged the UN Security Council on June 8 to adopt a resolution condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters, which Carney said the U.S. also supports. Russia and China have signaled they may veto the measure.

--With assistance from Caroline Alexander in London and Benjamin Harvey in Yayladagi, Turkey. Editors: Paul Tighe, Jim McDonald

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicholas Johnston in Washington at njohnston3@bloomberg.net; Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait at dkholaif@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net; Shaji Mathew at shajimathew@bloomberg.net.


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