Syria forces storm border town

Syrian troops and gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad stormed a town near the Turkish border on Saturday, burning houses and arresting dozens, witnesses said, in a persistent military campaign to crush popular revolt.

The assault followed another Friday of protests, which have grown in size and scope over the last three months, despite Assad’s violent clampdown on public dissent. Activists said security forces shot dead 19 protesters on Friday.

“They came at 7 am to Bdama. I counted nine tanks, 10 armoured carriers, 20 jeeps and 10 buses. I saw shabbiha (pro-Assad gunmen) setting fire to two houses,” said Saria Hammouda, a lawyer living in the border town, in the Jisr al-Shughour region, where thousands of Syrians had fled to nearby Turkey after the army clamped down on the area earlier in the month.

Bdama is one of the nerve centres providing food and supplies to several thousand other Syrians who have escaped the violence from frontier villages but chose to take shelter temporarily in fields on the Syrian side of the boundary.

“Bdama’s residents don’t dare take bread to the refugees and the refugees are fearful of arrests if they go into Bdama for food,” Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Another witness said government troops were also burning crops near hillsides in an apparent scorched earth policy.  European powers initiated a detente with Assad prior to the street unrest to try to draw the authoritarian Syrian leader, whose family has dominated Syria for 41 years, away from Iran and also stabilise Lebanon.

But they now say Damascus should face tougher sanctions over the violence against demonstrators seeking more political freedoms and an end to corruption, the impunity of political leaders and their allies, and poverty.

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