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Syrian Soldiers Enter Village Near Turkish Border

VOA News June 23, 2011

Activists say Syrian soldiers and tanks have entered a village near the Turkish border, as European Union diplomats prepare to expand sanctions against Syria.

Witnesses said Thursday the troops entered Khirbet al-Jouz, continuing a government crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising that began in March.

Turkey has set up tent camps to house 10,000 Syrians who have fled to escape the violence.

EU diplomats say the 27-nation bloc is due to adopt new sanctions Thursday against seven individuals, including three Iranians, which would then come into force on Friday.

The diplomats said Wednesday the seven individuals will be added to a list of 23 people and entities already under an EU asset freeze and travel ban. The list includes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Iranians and other newly-targeted individuals are suspected of providing military equipment and support to the Syrian government in suppressing the opposition movement that began in March. The crackdown has killed at least 1,400 people.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem denounced the EU action Wednesday, saying it is hurting the livelihood of Syrians and represents an "act of war."

Speaking at a news conference in Damascus, he said Syria "will forget Europe is on the map" and rejects foreign interference in its internal affairs.

Moallem denied that Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are helping Syria's government to crack down on the unrest. He said some of the violence may be the work of al-Qaida.

The Syrian foreign minister also singled out EU power France for criticism, accusing Syria's former colonial ruler of pursuing a "colonialist agenda under the guise of human rights."

France is one of several Western nations lobbying for a U.N. Security Council resolution that would condemn Syria for its crackdown. Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the council, have opposed such action.

Seven well-known authors sent a letter to the council urging it to adopt the measure. The letter, published Wednesday on the website of French intellectual and writer Bernard-Henry Levy, is also signed by Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, David Grossman, Amos Oz, Orhan Pamuk and Wole Soyinka.

Also Wednesday, Assad's dissident cousin told British media that Syria could slip into civil war and spark a regional conflict if there is no rapprochement between the Damascus government and opposition protesters.

The Reuters news agency reported that Ribal al-Assad, who lives in London, also said religious extremists are hijacking the three-month uprising, and that a corrupt inner circle is manipulating the president into resisting concessions to the protest movement.

Assad says he is willing to hold a national dialogue on possible reforms to parliamentary election laws, the media and Syria's constitution.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday the Syrian president's offer does not have "much credibility" because the crackdown is continuing. Ban said U.N. Security Council action on the Syria crisis would be "helpful."

Western powers also have dismissed Assad's comments, saying they did not meet popular demands for an end to his family's decades-long authoritarian rule.

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

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