News / Middle East

Clashes Between Syrian Troops, Defectors Kill 20

Clashes Between Syrian Troops, Defectors Kill 20
Clashes Between Syrian Troops, Defectors Kill 20

Syrian rights activists say clashes between government security forces and armed men believed to be army defectors have killed at least 19 people as the European Union imposed sanctions on the country's biggest state bank.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday's fighting in northern Idlib province killed 10 civilians when government troops stormed the town of Binish and fought battles with gunmen and army deserters.

The London-based group said more clashes in central Daraa province, a center for anti-government protests, killed at least eight people, including six soldiers. Another soldier was killed in Homs.

Also Thursday, the European Union agreed to freeze the assets of the Commercial Bank of Syria, which financial officials say holds much of the country's foreign reserves.

The latest round of sanctions aimed at pressuring President Bashar al-Assad's government to end the violence brings to 19 the number of entities the EU has targeted for supporting the Syrian government.

Syria has used military force to crush months of opposition protests calling for Mr. Assad's ouster, including a recent operation against military defectors in the central town of Rastan. On Thursday, the government led local journalists on a tour of the town. Earlier this month, activists said security forces arrested up to 3,000 people in a series of raids to track down dissident soldiers.

The U.N. human-rights office say more than 2,900 people have been killed during the government's crackdown.  Syria has blamed much of the violence on "armed gangs" and "terrorists."

In London, Britain summoned Syria's ambassador to discuss allegations of Syrian intimidation of protesters in Britain who are demonstrating against President Assad.  British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament Thursday that harassment of demonstrators in Britain is unacceptable.

The summons comes a day after the United States announced it has charged a Syrian-born U.S. citizen with spying on anti-Assad protesters in the United States. Syria immediately issued a statement denying that the suspect was working for Damascus.

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

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