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12 Killed in Syria; International Community Denounces Violence

This image made from amateur video released by Deir el-Zour Press news and accessed via The Associated Press Television News, shows Syrian tanks on the street in Deir el-Zour, Syria, August 9, 2011

At least 12 people were killed in Syria on Wednesday as the government widened its crackdown, in spite of mounting international pressure.

Rights groups say at least 11 people were killed on Wednesday after security forces moved into the central city of Homs.

They also say at least one civilian was killed and three others wounded after tanks moved into several northwestern villages near the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, witnesses say security forces have pushed further into Deir el-Zour, an eastern town that has been under siege for several days.

The violence has come at a time when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been facing growing international condemnation for his crackdown on dissent.

The U.S. announced new sanctions against Syria on Wednesday, saying it would freeze the U.S. assets of a bank and a mobile phone operator. The U.S. Treasury Department said both the Commercial Bank of Syria and Syriatel are part of the financial infrastructure helping the Syrian regime.

Later Wednesday, a White House spokesman repeated a U.S. assertion that Syria would be "better off" without Assad.

Also, a delegation consisting of Security Council members India, Brazil and South Africa met with Syria's foreign minister, Walid Moallem, on Wednesday.

The group issued a statement saying it expressed "grave concern" about Syria's unrest and called for restraint and a respect of human rights. The delegation says Assad assured them of his commitment to reforms and acknowledged that his security forces had made some mistakes in the initial stages of the unrest.

In a separate development, the U.N. Security Council is set to meet Wednesday to discuss possible further action against Damascus. Last week the Council issued a strong statement condemning the government crackdown on opposition protesters and calling for the violence to stop.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday a Turkish envoy had visited the flashpoint city of Hama, which had been under siege since late July.

He says Syrian security forces have begun to pull out of the city and expressed hope that the government would begin to enact reforms in the near future.

His comments come a day after Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, met with Assad in Damascus and urged him to end the bloodshed.

A state-run news report says army units left Hama after restoring stability. The report said "armed terrorist groups" were responsible for the violence. Rights groups and activists say more than 100 people were killed in Hama during the government siege.

Assad has defended his crackdown on dissidents, saying it is a national duty to deal with what he called "outlaws" who block roads and, in his words, "terrorize" people.

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