Syrian forces storm northern town, fight defectors-residents

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.

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