Syrian troops push into Saraqib

Aug. 11, 2011 at 8:09 AM
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SARAQIB, Syria, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Syrian troops pushed into Saraqib Thursday after evening prayers in the northwestern city called for the ouster of President Bashar Assad, activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents reported hearing gunfire and seeing troops smash through doors of businesses during a search for opposition activists, CNN reported.

The military action comes as violence was reported in other towns and as the number of international calls for Syria's government to end its brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters grows.

CNN said it couldn't independently confirm the latest military action. The Syrian government has banned foreign journalists from the country.

The military action in Saraqib follows reports that Syrian forces pulled out of the center of Hama after more than a week, an opposition activist said. An army officer told journalists the soldiers returned to their bases but activists said they remained on the outskirts of the city.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday that Turkey's envoy to Syria visited Hama and confirmed tanks and heavy weapons had withdrawn. Davutoglu met with Assad Tuesday.

Activists said troops opened fire on demonstrators in Hama after evening prayers Wednesday, killing two people.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem briefed diplomats from South Africa, Brazil and India -- non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- on the crisis Wednesday, officials said. The countries are among those trying to negotiate an end to the months-long violence in Syria.

Reports from the briefing indicated Assad has acknowledged mistakes "have been made" by his security forces during the initial phase of the unrest and that "efforts were under way to prevent their recurrence," CNN said

The U.N. Security Council met Wednesday to follow up on its statement issued last week that condemned the Syrian regime for attacks on protesters and called on both sides to end the violence.

The United States imposed sanctions on Syria's largest mobile phone operator and a Syrian bank and its Lebanese subsidiary.

The Obama administration also was poised to call on Assad to give up power, administration officials said.

President Barack Obama "believes that Syria will be better off ... without President Assad," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

The timing and content of a presidential statement was being discussed, officials told The Guardian newspaper, partly because the administration wants a full account of Assad's meeting with Davutoglu.

The meeting was followed Wednesday by a demand from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Assad end the violence and change his ways within 15 days.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said Wednesday Assad would continue the crackdown and "not be tolerant in pursuing the armed terrorist groups for the sake of protecting [the] homeland's stability and citizens' security."

Rights groups say more than 2,000 people have died in protests since the uprising started, with at least 35 deaths reported Wednesday.

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