News / Middle East

Syrian Government Forces Continue Crackdown

A Syrian refugee protects himself against the hot weather by wearing a plastic bowl on his head as he walks in a newly opened camp in Reyhanli, Turkey, June 24, 2011.
A Syrian refugee protects himself against the hot weather by wearing a plastic bowl on his head as he walks in a newly opened camp in Reyhanli, Turkey, June 24, 2011.

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Witnesses say that Syrian security forces moved into the Damascus suburb of Kaswah Saturday, a day after they surrounded the area and swooped down on protesters.  A Syrian rights group says at least 20 people were killed Friday in confrontations around the country between anti-goverment protesters and security forces.  The continuing clashes have sent large numbers of Syrians fleeing across the country's border with Lebanon.  Up to 1,000 Syrians are believed to have entered Lebanon during the past two days near the border town of Wadi Khaled.

A video on Facebook shows young protesters fleeing through a narrow street in the Damascus suburb of Kaswa Saturday as security forces storm the area. Witnesses say government tanks surrounded much of Kaswa, blocking it off from other regions. Dozens of protesters were also reportedly arrested in both Kaswa and the Barzeh neighborhood of Damascus.

Arab satellite channels showed video of thousands of mourners marching down a main avenue in Kaswa Saturday, carrying the coffins of three young men killed during Friday's protests.

A woman dressed in black screamed and shouted insults at the government as she hovered over the dead body of her thirteen-year-old son. A video on Facebook says that he was shot and killed by security forces in Kaswa Friday.

Syrian government TV claims that "armed gangs fired on security forces in Kaswa" Friday, wounding several. It added that 7 civilians and security forces were killed during the protests.

Syrian TV repeated a list of charges against protesters, claiming they "attacked fire trucks, blocked roads, threw stones, and shot at security forces." A man in the town of Jisr al-Shaghour also claimed that "armed gangs were preventing refugees from returning home from Turkey."

More than 12,000 Syrian refugees have fled to camps inside Turkey in the past several weeks.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut insisted that Syria is more worried about preventing the collapse of its regime, than about provoking a conflict with Turkey. He says that Syrian forces approached the border, despite agreements not to do so:

"Syrian armored personnel carriers even reached the border," said Khashan.  "They were maybe two meters away from the Turkish border station. The Syrians want it to be clear that they will not allow the Turks to establish a buffer zone, whereby the opposition can be stationed there.  So, the Syrians don't really seem to care if the Turks were to initiate hostility against them. What counts most for them is the survival of the regime, and I don't think they will be deterred by any United Nations resolution, even though see it coming, or by sanctions."

The French daily Le Figaro also reported Saturday that the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon has been moving rockets and other arms from inside Syria to Lebanon. Hezbollah, according to the paper, is worried about the possible collapse of the Syrian regime.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claimed in a speech Friday that the fall of the Syrian regime would represent a "free gift to both Israel and the United States," allowing them to "impose their hegemony over the region." Hezbollah is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist groups.

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