Syria crackdown intensifies ahead of UN vote, 41 killed

Syria crackdown intensifies ahead of UN vote, 41 killed

At least 41 people died as Syrian armour moved on protest hubs, while prominent blogger Razan Ghazzawi and other top activists were arrested, monitors said ahead of a UN vote on the crisis.

President Bashar al-Assad's troops pummelled the central city of Homs for a 13th straight day, with 18 people killed in central Hama province and four others dying in the southern city of Daraa, the monitors reported yesterday.

Another 19 people, including 11 from the same extended family, were killed in a "massacre" in the northwestern province of Idlib as troops assaulted a number of villages in the Sahl Erruj valley, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Among the dead were three brothers.

Mohammed, a Daraa resident reached by telephone from Beirut, said "it's very methodical" and that regime forces were attacking the province "village by village."

"The (rebel) Free Syrian Army is trying to push them back but it is not equipped and is forced to retreat. Regime troops are taking revenge on residents."

The Observatory monitoring group also said it fears security forces carried out a massacre in Daraa province, where dozens of civilians disappeared on Wednesday after being cornered in a valley.

"There are fears regime forces carried out a massacre in Sahm al-Julan," the Britain-based group said.

"Witnesses said security forces shot at the civilians and then piled them onto pick-up trucks. Their fate is unknown," said the Observatory, which provided the names of 14 of those feared killed.

The authorities arrested Ghazzawi, symbol of the 11-month uprising against Assad's regime, and prominent human rights activist Mazen Darwish, his wife and 11 others, a human rights lawyer said.

Anwar Bunni said Ghazzawi was arrested in a raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, which is in central Damascus and headed by Darwish.

"We at the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies condemn these arrests and call on Syrian authorities to immediately release them," Bunni said in a statement echoed by Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The latest crackdown came with the UN General Assembly set to vote later yesterday on a measure condemning repression in Syria, just days after Russia and China jointly vetoed a similar text in the UN Security Council.