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15 Civilians Killed in Syrian Crackdown on Central Towns


A file photo taken from footage by Sham SNN, a Syrian opposition web channel, shows Syrian army vehicles deployed in the central industrial city of Homs

A file photo taken from footage by Sham SNN, a Syrian opposition web channel, shows Syrian army vehicles deployed in the central industrial city of Homs

Syrian rights activists say a military crackdown on opposition protesters in the central part of the country has killed at least 15 civilians since Sunday and injured dozens more.

The demonstrators were killed as government forces backed by tanks, artillery and helicopters continued to attack the cities of Talbiseh, Rastan and other central communities where residents have staged anti-government protests in recent days.

Rights groups said three civilians were killed Monday in Talbiseh. Residents also found the bodies of two people thought to have been killed by Syrian troops in Homs, Syria's third-largest city.

In a new development, the Associated Press reported that residents of Talbiseh and Rastan used automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to repel advancing troops. One activist was quoted as saying the armed resistance was not organized but rather involved individual residents protecting themselves.

Witness reports in Syria, as well as official accounts, are difficult to independently verify because the government barred most international journalists from the country soon after the unrest began in March.

Also Monday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the repression of opposition movements in Syria and Libya is "shocking" for its "brutality and magnitude." Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been trying to suppress an opposition revolt against his 42-year rule since February.

Pillay renewed her call for Syria to allow a fact-finding mission to visit the country. She was speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Earlier, Syrian state media said "terrorists" operating in Talbiseh killed four Syrian soldiers and wounded 14 on Sunday. Syria's government frequently blames the two-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad on terrorists, Islamists and foreign agitators. It says at least 140 Syrian security personnel have been killed in the unrest.

Syrian opposition activists have been protesting almost daily since March for democratic reforms and an end to Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule. Rights groups say Mr. Assad's security forces have killed more than 1,000 people and arrested 10,000 more in a campaign to crush the uprising.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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