Syrian Troops Expand Crackdown on Protest While 30 Die in Fight

Syrian Troops Expand Crackdown on Protest
More than 300 Syrian activists and dissidents in exile met in Istanbul over the weekend and voted to form a National Salvation Council that could form the basis for a transitional government, the London Telegraph reported. Photographer: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian troops expanded their crackdown yesterday against protesters seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, and more than 30 people died in a fight between pro- and anti-government activists.

Tanks rolled into the central city of Homs and the town of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon, Al Arabiya television reported, citing unidentified activists. Troops opened fire at civilians in the city of Deir Ezzor, injuring 10, Al Jazeera television reported, citing activists.

In Homs, a fight between civilians loyal to and opposed to the Assad regime killed more than 30 activists in the past 24 hours, said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in a telephone interview.

“We were able to get a list of 30 names of civilians killed in Homs, but the number is higher than that,” he said from London.

Soldiers were carried by helicopter to the eastern town of Al Bukamal, a site of protests near the main crossing point to neighboring Iraq, Al Arabiya television reported. The move came a day after gunmen killed three Syrian security personnel and abducted two officers in Al Bukamal, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said today.

Syria’s protests have posed the biggest threat to Assad since he inherited power from his father 11 years ago. Syrian security forces have killed more than 1,700 people since March and jailed thousands of others, according to human rights groups. Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

More than 300 Syrian activists and dissidents in exile met in Istanbul over the weekend and voted to form a National Salvation Council that could form the basis for a transitional government, the London Telegraph reported.

Libya Air Strike

In Libya, where leader Muammar Qaddafi is clinging to power amid a months-long NATO military offensive, alliance aircraft carried out a “major strike” yesterday on a military depot in Tajura, northeast of Tripoli, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization air strike caused “extensive damage” to a fleet of vehicles used by Qaddafi’s forces, the ministry said in a statement.

Fighting resumed yesterday in the oil town of Brega, Al Jazeera television reported. The network said Al-Mutasim Al-Qaddafi, the son of the Libyan leader who commands the troops defending Brega, fled to the town of Sirte after failing to stop the advance of rebel forces. Qaddafi’s troops have planted 40,000 land mines around Brega, Al Jazeera reported, citing an unidentified military source.

Al-Qaeda Gunmen

In Yemen, government forces killed 30 al-Qaeda gunmen in the city of Zanjibar, Al Jazeera reported. Forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire on protesters in the Red Sea city of Al-Hudaida and injured 80 of them, according to Al Jazeera.

In Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, the country’s biggest Shiite opposition group pulled out of U.S.- backed talks with the Persian Gulf kingdom’s Sunni rulers yesterday, said Khalil al-Marzooq, a representative of the Al-Wefaq opposition group, in a phone interview from Manama.

The group’s top leaders decided to withdraw from the talks after concluding the government isn’t interested in political reform, al-Marzooq told the Associated Press.

Mubarak’s Coma

In Egypt there were conflicting reports about the medical condition of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“They are unable to get him to regain consciousness,” said Mubarak’s lawyer, Farid elDib.

Mohamed Fathalia, the head of the hospital, later told CNN that Mubarak “is now stable after suffering a coma that did not last long.”

Mubarak, 83, has been in a hospital in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh since April while under arrest on charges of ordering the killing of protesters during Egypt’s public uprising in February.

The military council now governing Egypt over the weekend was moving to lay down the ground rules for a new constitution that would protect and possibly expand its own authority indefinitely, the New York Times reported.

At the same time, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf began shuffling his cabinet yesterday, meeting one of the demands of demonstrators who have staged a sit-in in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for more than a week.

Hazem El Beblawi, an economist who works as an adviser for the Arab Monetary Fund in the United Arab Emirates, said he was appointed Egypt’s finance minister and deputy prime minister, amid other new appointments.

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