Syria crackdown gets bloodier

Assad faces severe challenge with allies urging him to step down

Around 100 of his supporters stormed the Jordanian embassy in Damascus overnight — the latest regional mission to be targeted since the Arab League voted on Saturday to impose sanctions — after Jordan’s King Abdullah II became the first Arab leader to publicly call for Assad to quit.

Buoyed by the fast-growing diplomatic pressure, Syria’s opposition stepped up its contacts with the regime’s remaining bulwarks, holding talks in Moscow, which last month joined Beijing in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that would have threatened “targeted measures”.

Turkey talks tough

Neighbouring Turkey, a former close Damascus ally that has been one of the most outspoken champions of reform, threatened to cut power exports to the Syrian national grid as it prepared to hold talks in Morocco with Arab leaders Wednesday that are expected to be dominated by the bloodshed.

“We are currently exporting electricity (to Syria). If the situation continues like this, we may be in a position to revise all these decisions,” Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said.

In a sign of the potential for civil war in one of the Middle East’s most pivotal countries, five regular army troops were killed on Tuesday in clashes with mutinous soldiers who refused orders to shoot on civilians, a human rights group said, after 34 were killed the previous day.

The fighting erupted in the town of Hara in Daraa province, where the unprecedented protests against Assad’s 11-year reign erupted in mid-March, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In Idlib province in the northwest, close to the Turkish border, “clashes between the regular army and armed men, probably deserters, caused at least 14 casualties — dead and wounded,” the Britain-based watchdog added.

A child was killed in the province’s Kfar Uma district where more than 20 explosions were heard during the clashes between the army and presumed deserters, it said.

In the flashpoint central city of Homs, scene of a deadly offensive by loyalist troops since the signing of an abortive Arab League peace deal earlier this month, 19 unidentified bodies were delivered to the main public hospital.

The Observatory said it feared the dead were among the victims of a spate of kidnappings by pro-government militia in the city — Syria’s third largest.

Desertions

Desertions within Assad’s security forces — which have a professional hard core but also much larger conscripted ranks — triggered much of Monday’s death toll of more than 70.
A total of 34 soldiers and 12 suspected army deserters were killed in clashes, as well as 27 civilians shot dead by security forces in the regime’s intensifying crackdown, the Observatory said.

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