BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian troops killed three people as tanks swept into a coastal city yesterday, activists said, in a crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad which drew criticism from an international Muslim group.
The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, adding its voice to growing Arab pressure on Assad, called for an immediate halt to the military campaign against protesters which activists say has killed 1,700 civilians in five months.
US President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah repeated their calls for the crackdown to stop.
Obama also spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the leaders called for an immediate end to attacks by Syrian government forces against protesters, the White House said. It said Obama and Cameron would “consult on further steps in the days ahead”.
Yesterday’s bloodshed came a day after security forces shot dead 20 people during nationwide marches in which demonstrators called for Assad’s overthrow and vowed they would “kneel only to God”.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were killed and 15 wounded in heavy gunfire after around 20 military vehicles entered the Ramle district of Latakia, on the Mediterranean coast.
Soldiers backed by loyalist militia known as shabbiha were also deployed in the city’s Sulaiba district, the group’s head Rami Abdel Rahman said. “They are arresting dozens of people,” he said, adding many people were fleeing the assault.Troops and shabbiha killed one person in the town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, and made arrests in nearby Jousiyah village, he said. The bodies of four people arrested during an assault last week in the Houla Plain, north of Homs city, were returned to their families, he added.
Syria has barred most independent media, making it hard to verify events on the ground in the unrest, one of a series of popular revolts against autocratic Arab leaders this year.