Syrian troops detain dozens; 3 dead in north

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops detained dozens of people in a Damascus neighborhood and the coastal city of Latakia in overnight raids as President Bashar Assad’s regime tried to forcefully end a five-month uprising, activists said Wednesday.

The latest arrests came as Syrian neighbors Jordan and Turkey urged Damascus to stop the crackdown and pull out army troops from cities.

In the northwestern Idlib province, a bullet killed a man as he stood on his balcony, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of people on the ground. Troops were carrying out raids in the area at the time.

Earlier Wednesday, a woman died of her wounds two days after she was injured in Latakia, according to the observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group. The LCC said a man was killed in the city late Tuesday.

The Damascus raids concentrated in the predominantly Kurdish neighborhood of Rukneddine where dozens were detained after electricity was cut in the area, the observatory said. The area has witnessed intense anti-regime protests in the past weeks.

In Latakia, hundreds of security agents conducted house-to-house raids in the al-Ramel neighborhood, the observatory and LCC said. Al-Ramel is home to a crowded Palestinian refugee camp where many low-income Syrians also live.

The Mediterranean city was subjected to a four-day military assault that left at least 37 people dead and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Amateur videos posted online showed Syrian soldiers in SUVs and pickup trucks as they drove on a street apparently in Latakia. The troop were greeted in al-Ramel by Assad supporters chanting, “Our souls and our blood we sacrifice for you, Bashar.”

Another video showed a military helicopter flying over the coast.

The Associated Press could not verify the videos. Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to get independent confirmation of the events on the ground.

Mr. Assad has dramatically escalated the crackdown on the uprising in August at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands detained. Despite broad international condemnation, the regime has unleashed tanks, ground troops and snipers in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas.

The military operations have targeted Latakia, the opposition stronghold of Hama, the central city of Homs and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.

The regime insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out terrorists fomenting unrest in the country. But various human rights groups have accused Syrian troops of firing on largely unarmed protesters and say more than 1,800 civilians have been killed since the uprising erupted in mid-March.

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Jordan renewed their call on Damascus to end its crackdown immediately.

In a joint news conference held on the sidelines of a meeting of Islamic nations to discuss famine in Somalia, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, “The bloodshed must stop, all soldiers must be withdrawn from the cities, and life in these cities must return to normal.”

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