AMMAN, (Reuters) – Syrian forces stormed a town on the main road leading to Turkey yesterday after troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fought a night-time battle in Damascus with army defectors who had refused to shoot at a pro-democracy protest.
Six months into a popular uprising, Assad is under pressure from street protests and from Arab foreign ministers who told Syria yesterday to work to end bloodshed “before it is too late”.
The Arab League decided to send its secretary-general to Damascus to push for reforms , while the president of neighbouring Turkey said he had lost confidence in Syria .
Residents of Khan Sheikhoun, on the main road 245 km (155 miles) north of Damascus, said two people had been killed in an army assault on their town. Two local activists, Tareq al-Nisr and Musaab Taha, were wounded, another activist said.
“It was an assassination attempt. The security police and shabbiha (militiamen) are beginning to use targeted assassinations and arresting people in larger numbers,” said the activist, who gave his name as Abu Wael.
In Damascus, dozens of soldiers defected and fled into al-Ghouta, an area of farmland, after pro-Assad forces fired at a large crowd of demonstrators near the suburb of Harasta to prevent them from marching on the centre, residents said.
“The army has been firing heavy machineguns throughout the night at al-Ghouta and they were being met with response from smaller rifles,” a resident of Harasta told Reuters by phone.
A statement published on the Internet by the Free Officers, a group that says it represents defectors, said “large defections” occurred in Harasta and security forces and shabbiha loyal to Assad were chasing the defectors.