Syrian Forces Attack Demonstrators Near Turkish Border
Edward Yeranian | Cairo June 11, 2011
Mourners across Syria laid to rest the bodies of dozens of people killed when government forces fired on anti-government demonstrators, and military units are continuing their crackdown against the town of Jisr al-Shughour, near the Turkish border. In Yemen, officials say at least 30 government soldiers and suspected militants have been killed in fighting in southern Abyan Province.
Witnesses in northern Syria say government attack helicopters are being used to strafe targets in several besieged towns. Videos on Facebook show the helicopters firing on towns with what residents say is large-caliber ammunition.
Several witnesses told Al Jazeera TV the helicopters “fired indiscriminately on groups of refugees from the air.”
Arab satellite channels also broadcast videos of several army officers announcing that they had quit in order to defend unarmed civilians in towns that have come under government attack. Witnesses report that rebel officers have taken up positions inside the town of Jisr al-Shughour, under assault by government tanks.
Much of Jisr al-Shughour appears to be deserted. Residents fled through fields into neighboring Turkey, and several witnesses said Syrian troops set fire to fields and fired on fleeing residents. Turkey has set up tents on its side of the border for more than 4,000 refugees.
Syrian government TV's version of events says “terrorist gangs” had taken control of Jisr al-Shughour, harming civilians and stealing food supplies. The state-run broadcaster said the Syrian Army moved in “to bring bread and restore security,” and that people in the region welcomed the troops "with open arms.”
State TV reported that a group of Lebanese journalists escorted by Syrian government officials came under fire on the outskirts of Jisr al-Shughour. Most foreign correspondents are not being allowed into Syria and it is difficult to confirm developments on the ground.
Hundreds of mourners chanted slogans against the government Saturday in the Damascus suburb of Qaboun for the funeral of slain protester Ali Wafiq Ramadan - one of at least 32 protesters reported killed during demonstrations across the country on Friday.
Al Arabiya TV reported that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem sent a message to the U.N. demanding that the Security Council abstain from “interfering in Syrian internal affairs.” The foreign minister also warned that any international condemnation of Damascus would “encourage extremists and terrorists.”
The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has complained that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is refusing to accept his telephone calls, with underlings demanding to know the reason for Mr. Ban's call before putting him through.
In Yemen, Deputy Information Minister Abou Janadi insisted that Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur Hadi was in charge of the country in the absence of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who left for Saudi Arabia last week after suffering serious injuries in a rocket attack. The spokesman disputed reports that Mr. Saleh’s son, Ahmed, either had seized power or would move to do so.
Reports from Saudi Arabia say President Saleh is in serious condition in a hospital there, recuperating from surgery to remove shrapnel from his wounds that had affected his breathing.
Clashes between government forces and al-Qaida rebels in the Yemeni coastal town of Zinjibar and another area nearby left 21 militants dead Saturday. Nine soldiers also were killed according to Yemen’s defense ministry. Al-Qaida militants seized control of Zinjibar last month.
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