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Syrian Forces Launch New Raids

An image from video shows what Syrian anti-regime activists say is destruction and burnt vehicles in the village of Ibleen in northwestern Jabal Al-Zawiyah (region) after it was stormed by army troops. (AFP cannot independently verify the editorial conten

Syrian forces have raided a northwestern village as the government continues its crackdown on dissent.

Activists said there were reports of machine gun fire on Thursday after armored vehicles and jeeps stormed into the town of Ibleen. The French news agency AFP quotes activists who say forces killed three military defectors during a raid on a house.

The military operation took place the same day Russia announced plans to mediate talks that could allow President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power, in spite of massive anti-government protests in Syria.

Russian envoy Mikhail Margelov said Thursday that he will meet with Syrian opposition figures in Moscow on Friday and with an aide to Assad on Monday.

Margelov said he hoped to find a political solution to Syria's unrest. He described Assad as a "well-educated" and "broad-minded" leader who has a chance to modernize his country. Also, Russia and Syria have strong ties in their defense industries.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe met with his Russian counterpart and urged Russia to take a stronger stance against Syria. He accused Damascus of committing "crimes against humanity."

The United Nations estimates 2,200 people have been killed since March after Assad launched the crackdown on dissent.

On Wednesday, activists said Syrian security forces killed at least 20 people during raids against anti-government protesters, mostly in the central Homs region.

The state-run SANA news agency said Thursday that eight law enforcement and security force members were killed by "armed terrorist groups" in Homs. President Bashar al-Assad's government has blamed much of the deadly violence on armed gunmen and terrorists.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he has urged Syria to carry out political reforms "before it is too late." During a speech in Australia on Thursday, Ban said violence against Syrians had continued despite his repeated calls for President Assad to halt his forces' "excessive and lethal" actions.

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

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