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Syria troops ‘move closer to Turkey border’
BEIRUT, Jun 18 (Agencies):
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Published on 18 Jun. 2011 10:18 PM IST
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Syrian troops have moved into village close to the border with Turkey, say reports, as the government continues attempts to crush an uprising.
Thousands of Syrian people have arrived in the border area over the past week, escaping military action in the north.
Turkey says some 10,000 have crossed over to its territory but many more are camping on the Syrian side.
The UK has advised against all travel to Syria and urged its nationals to leave as soon as possible.
Activists say at least 19 people were shot dead during protests against President Bashar al-Assad on Friday.
Syrian state media reported that a policeman had been killed and many others wounded.
The UN says that at least 1,100 people have died since protests against President Assad began in March, but Syrian rights groups put the overall death toll in Syria at 1,297 civilians and 340 security force members.
Syria has prevented foreign journalists, including those from the BBC, from entering the country, making it difficult to independently verify reports from there.
Local people said the army moved into the town of Bdama, about 2km (1.2 miles) from the Turkish border, early on Saturday morning, firing machine guns and setting fire to buildings.
“I counted nine tanks, 10 armoured carriers, 20 jeeps and 10 buses. I saw gunmen setting fire to two houses,” Saria Hammouda, a lawyer from Bdama, told the Associated Press news agency.
Reports say at least 70 people were arrested.
Bdama is close to Jisr al-Shughour, which has become the focus of military since the army was sent in on 10 June, saying residents had asked for help in restoring order.
The authorities blamed armed groups for the deaths of 120 security personnel in the town earlier that week, although there were reports of a mutiny among security forces.
Jisr al-Shughour is now under government control - the authorities have called on local people who fled the fighting to return home, but the town is reported to be almost deserted.
Activists and witnesses said security forces had opened fire on demonstrators in several locations on Friday, killing at least 19 people.
At least eight people were killed at a huge demonstration around the al-Nour mosque in Homs, while deaths were also reported in the capital, Damascus, the eastern provincial capital of Deir al-Zour, and the province of Deraa in the south.
Tanks, armoured personnel carriers and buses were used to secure Maarat al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun, both on the road linking Damascus and Aleppo.
Opposition figure Walid al-Bunni said the security grip on the country was weakening as the protests grow and spread through the country.
“More people are risking their lives to demonstrate. The Syrian people realise that this is an opportunity for liberty that comes once in hundreds of years,” he told Reuters news agency.

 
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