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Syria Rolls Out More Tanks as Turkey Sends Reform Delegation

Syrians protest in the city of Banias holding up a sign that reads in Arabic, "Stop the innocent blood bath" on April 26, 2011

Syrians protest in the city of Banias holding up a sign that reads in Arabic, "Stop the innocent blood bath" on April 26, 2011

Turkey's intelligence chief led a delegation to Syria Thursday to urge the neighboring country to quickly start reforms amid a military crackdown on demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported that National Intelligence Agency head Hakan Fidan discussed reform and other measures with Assad. The agency said meetings are planned with other Syrian officials.

The Turkish mission comes after at least 228 members of Syria's ruling Baath Party resigned Wednesday in protest of Assad's use of deadly force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

The Associated Press reports that Syrian tanks headed into the northern port of Latakia on Thursday, a scene of recent protests, where security forces reportedly fired on demonstrators.

The crackdown also continued in the southern town of Daraa, which has been under siege from troops and tanks, keeping most people off the streets. There is a strong military presence in other Syrian towns, including two suburbs of Damascus.

The Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that a Syrian human rights organization said at least 500 people have died during the uprising in recent weeks, while thousands have been arrested.

The Baath Party resignations on Wednesday included more than 200 party members from Daraa province. In the coastal city of Banias, another 28 party members resigned, accusing troops and pro-government gunmen of opening fire against "honorable citizens."

Syria says the military clampdown is designed to protect, and not harm, citizens.

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On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a statement condemning the violent crackdown. Diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the violence will continue Friday when the U.N. Human Rights Council holds a special session on Syria.

Russia, which has opposed outside interference in Syria, on Thursday urged Syrian authorities to bring to justice those responsible for killing civilians during the demonstrations.

In other diplomatic moves, five European Union nations - France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain - summoned Syrian ambassadors Wednesday in a coordinated demand that Assad's government stop the violent crackdown.

EU officials also are considering imposing economic sanctions on Syria.

Assad last week ended the country's 48-year-old emergency law - a key demand of protesters - and abolished a state security court. But the government then unleased its military crackdown.

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