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May 16, 2011

Syria Denies Report of Mass Grave in Daraa

Syria’s interior ministry is denying reports by opposition sources of the existence of a mass grave in the southern flashpoint city of Daraa, the scene of a violent crackdown by the government. Opposition websites showed video Monday of bodies being pulled from the alleged mass grave on the outskirts of the city.

The interior ministry denial of the mass grave report was met with skepticism.

France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe insisted Tuesday that there was enough support in the UN Security Council to condemn Syria for the brutal crackdown against its people.

Syrian opposition groups posted a call for a “general strike” Wednesday on Facebook to protest the government crackdown. Activists are urging the Syrian public to hold “mass protests” that encompass the closing of “schools, universities, stores and restaurants.”

Several thousand students at Aleppo University held a candle-light protest vigil overnight that was later broken up by police. Many students were reportedly arrested. Other candlelight vigils were also held in two Damascus suburbs, according to media reports.

Witnesses say pro-government militiamen continued their crackdown in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh, and sporadic gunfire could be heard on the Lebanese side of the border. Hundreds of refugees have fled to Lebanon since the crackdown began four days ago.

The Lebanese press is also reporting that the Syrian government has requested that three soldiers that fled into Lebanon over the weekend be handed over. Human rights groups say the soldiers could be tortured if they are sent back and are urging Lebanon not to heed the request.

In Libya, British jets bombed two government building in the capital Tripoli overnight, according to Britain’s defense ministry. One building was reportedly used by the government’s secret police to crack down on opponents.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim condemned the attacks, demanding that NATO and the Western alliance open a dialogue with Tripoli, instead of bombing the country:

"If they are really interested in protecting civilians, which is the main and only justification they proposed for their aggression against our nation," he said. "If they are truly interested in that, then we have called upon them to stop and to start talking to us."

Arab satellite channels also reported that Libyan Oil Minister Shoukri Ghanem defected to Tunisia, following dozens of other former Libyan officials and ambassadors in recent weeks. Witnesses said clashes between Libyan rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces near a rebel-held bordering crossing with Tunisia.

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