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Syrian Troops Kill 19; Annan Warns Crisis Cannot Drag On


This image made from amateur video and released by Shaam News Network March 26, 2012, purports to show a Syrian military tank in Deir el-Zour, Syria.

This image made from amateur video and released by Shaam News Network March 26, 2012, purports to show a Syrian military tank in Deir el-Zour, Syria.

Syrian security forces have killed at least 19 people in attacks across the country, and international peace envoy Kofi Annan says the crisis "cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely."

Activists say government shells hit several parts of the central city of Homs Monday as part of a daily assault on remaining centers of resistance. They say President Bashar al-Assad's forces also carried out arrest raids throughout the country. Their reports could not be independently confirmed because Syria tightly restricts foreign reporting.

Mr. Annan said Monday that Syria's government "cannot resist the transformational winds that are blowing" through the region. He also said it is up to the Syrian people to decide if Assad should resign after 11 years of autocratic rule.

The U.N.-Arab League envoy arrives in China Tuesday in a bid to secure further support for his proposal to end violence in Syria, after winning the full backing of Russia. He has proposed a six-point plan to Assad calling on government forces and rebels to agree on a cease-fire and engage in dialogue. The blueprint, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, does not include a Western and Arab demand for Assad to resign - a requirement that Russia and China oppose.

Turkey, meanwhile, suspended operations at its Damascus embassy, citing Syria's worsening security situation. Ankara's move further isolates President Assad and follows a recent series of embassy closures by Arab and Western nations critical of his violent crackdown on the revolt. Norway also said it is closing its embassy.

In Istanbul, Syrian opposition groups gathered Monday in a last-ditch attempt at forging a united front before a major conference April 1. Western and Arab nations calling themselves the "Friends of Syria" are due to meet in the Turkish city to discuss support for the Syrian opposition's struggle to end decades of autocratic rule.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the conference after meeting Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and foreign ministers of five Gulf Arab states in Riyadh later this week. A State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said Clinton's efforts at both gatherings will focus on ending Syria's bloodshed.

Also Monday, one of three investigators on a U.N. panel documenting crimes against humanity in Syria - including executions and torture - resigned in protest of the Syrian government's refusal to let them into the country. Yakin Erturk, a leading international rights expert, made clear her resignation is not a criticism of the panel, which she said has done everything possible to establish the kinds of crimes Mr. Assad's forces have committed over the past year.

Syria's state news agency SANA said government troops foiled an attempt by "terrorists" to enter the country from Turkey on Monday, killing and wounding some of the infiltrators. It said Turkish medical teams evacuated the casualties. Ankara had no immediate comment on the incident.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown on the uprising during the past year. Damascus blames the violence on what it says are foreign-backed terrorists.

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

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