Syria tank assault kills 11 near Turkey border

AMMAN, (Reuters) – Syrian troops shot dead 11  villagers yesterday, residents said, as authorities pressed  on with a tank-led assault that has driven thousands of refugees  across the northwest border with Turkey.

The assault on Jabal al-Zawya, a region 35 km (22 miles)  south of Turkey that has seen spreading protests against  President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, was launched overnight, a day  after authorities said they would invite opponents to talks on  July 10 to set up a dialogue offered by Assad.

Opposition leaders have dismissed the offer, saying it is  not credible while mass killings and arrests continue. The Local  Coordination Committees, a main activists’ group, said in a  statement on Wednesday that 1,000 people have been arrested  arbitrarily across Syria over the last week alone.

A resident of Jabal al-Zawya, a teacher who gave his name as  Ziad, told Reuters by phone that among the dead were two youths  in the village of Sarja.

“An eleven-year-old child is also badly wounded by random  gunfire. We cannot get him out of the village for treatment  because the tanks blocked all roads and troops are firing  non-stop,” he said.

Ammar Qarabi, president of the Syrian National Human Rights  Organisation, told Reuters from exile in Cairo that at least  four villagers died in the village of Rama when tanks fired  machineguns on surrounding woods then on the village. Residents  reported killings in other parts of the region, which is home to  more than 30 villages.

“Jabal al-Zawya, was one of the first regions in Syria where  people took to the street demanding the downfall of the regime.  The military attacks have now reached them and they will likely  result in more killings and in more refugees to Turkey,” said  Qarabi, who is from the northwestern province of Idlib.

He said he based his information on several witnesses’  testimony. Syria has banned most international media, making it  difficult to independently verify accounts of violence.

A resident of Jabal al-Zawya said he heard large explosions  overnight around the villages of Rama and Orum al-Joz, west of  the highway linking the cities of Hama and Aleppo.

“My relatives there say the shelling is random and that tens  of people have been arrested,” he said.

Another resident said 30 tanks rolled into Jabal al-Zawya on  Monday from the village of Bdama on the Turkish border, where  troops broke into houses and burnt crops.

Rights campaigners say Assad’s troops, security forces and  gunmen have killed over 1,300 civilians since the uprising for  political freedom erupted in the southern Hauran Plain in March,  including over 150 people killed in a scorched earth campaign  against towns and villages in Idlib.

They say scores of troops and police were also killed for  refusing to fire on civilians. Syrian authorities say more than  500 soldiers and police died in clashes with “armed terrorist  groups”, whom they also blame for most civilian deaths.

Protests against Assad have been spreading despite military  assaults and a fierce security crackdown, with activists  expecting more students to join street demonstrations after  exams

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