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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syria Says Military Forces Withdrawing from Flashpoint City

VOA News May 05, 2011

Syria says it has begun a gradual military withdrawal from the flashpoint city of Daraa, where a series of deadly clashes have erupted between security forces and anti-government protesters.

The state-run SANA news agency quoted a military official on Thursday as saying the army had completed its mission of detaining so-called "terrorist elements" in the southern city and restoring calm and stability.

On Wednesday, the Middle Eastern daily Al Watan quoted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as saying the military crackdown in Daraa would end "very soon."

Troops and tanks have been in Daraa since anti-government protests started as calls for reform and developed into demands for the president's ouster.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says world powers have to show the Syrian government that there are consequences for what she calls a "brutal crackdown" on civilians. Clinton said she discussed possible sanctions against Syria during her meeting in Rome on Thursday with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Rights groups say at least 560 civilians have been killed in Syria's nationwide unrest.

On Wednesday, witnesses said military reinforcements and tanks were massing in cities including Rastan and Homs as well as outside of the capital, Damascus.

Syrian security forces have intensified their crackdown on opposition protesters, detaining more than 1,000 people in recent days as international condemnation of Assad's government widens.

Britain has issued its most severe warning yet. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that President Assad's authoritarian government was "doomed to failure" unless he delivered on political reforms. Hague said his country is actively working to coordinate "international diplomatic action" against Syria, particularly through EU sanctions.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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