Syrian activists warn against taking up arms

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BEIRUT — Syrians should not take up arms in their uprising against President Bashar Assad or invite foreign military action like the intervention that helped topple the government of Libya, a prominent activist group warned Monday.

There have been scattered reports of some Syrians using automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised weapons to repel government troops, but there appears to have been no organized armed resistance to Assad during the five-month uprising.

Calls to launch such a resistance have been rare, but they were more widely reported than usual by witnesses at protests in Syria on Friday, at the end of a week that saw Tripoli fall to rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi with the help of NATO.

“While we understand the motivation to take up arms or call for military intervention, we specifically reject this position,” said a statement emailed by the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group with a wide network of sources on the ground across Syria. “Militarization would … erode the moral superiority that has characterized the revolution since its beginning.”

The prime minister of Turkey, a former close ally, warned Assad that his regime could face a demise like those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya if the violent suppression of protests does not stop.

A Syrian sweet vendor stands outside his shop at a popular market in the old city of Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 29, 2011. A picture above the shop depicts the late Syrian President Hafez Assad (left) and his dead son Bassel Assad. (Associated Press)

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A Syrian sweet vendor stands outside his shop at a popular market ... more >

The comments were some of the bluntest warnings yet and were particularly biting because they came from a leader whose government had extensive diplomatic ties with Syria.

“The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people’s demands,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in his monthly address aired on Turkish TV late Sunday. “We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness.”

Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising in March.

Witnesses and activists said the crackdown continued Monday as Syrian security forces pursuing anti-government protesters stormed several towns and villages, killing at least six people — including a child — and wounding many others during raids and house-to-house searches.

The largest operation appeared to be in Sarameen in the northern Idlib province, where the London-based Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed and more than 60 wounded. One person also died during raids in Qara, a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

Similar raids were reported in the village of Heet near the border with Lebanon, along with a military buildup just outside the central town of Rastan, which has become a hotbed of dissent against Assad.

The Syrian government has placed severe restrictions on the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify witness accounts.

Syria’s opposition has no clear leadership or platform beyond the demands for more freedom and for Assad to step down, and several attempts to form a national council have failed because of disagreements between opposition figures, and in particular, divisions between the opposition inside and outside Syria.

In a sign of just how fragmented the opposition is, a relatively unknown dissident Monday announced the formation of a 94-member national council.

The announcement, made in Ankara, Turkey, was greeted with excitement on social networking sites — but the celebrations were premature. Several opposition figures whose names appeared on the list told The Associated Press they had not been consulted.

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