By Arab News
Syrian troops and gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad stormed a town near the Turkish border on Saturday, burning houses and arresting dozens, witnesses said, in a persistent military campaign to crush popular revolt. The latest assault followed another Friday of deadly protests.
“They came at 7 a.m. to Bdama. I counted nine tanks, 10 armored carriers, 20 jeeps and 10 buses. I saw shabbiha (pro-Assad gunmen) setting fire to two houses,” said Saria Hammouda, a lawyer living in the border town in the Jisr Al-Shughour region.
Bdama is one of the nerve centers providing food and supplies to several thousand other Syrians who have escaped the violence from frontier villages but chose to take shelter temporarily in fields on the Syrian side of the boundary.
“Bdama’s residents don’t dare take bread to the refugees and the refugees are fearful of arrests if they go into Bdama for food,” Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Another witness said government troops were also burning crops on nearby hillsides in an apparent scorched earth policy.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Army clamped down on two sectarian districts of a northern city on Saturday after a rally in support of anti-government protesters in Syria triggered deadly clashes between rival gunmen.
Troops manned checkpoints and searched cars and houses in Tripoli’s Bab Al-Tebbaneh neighborhood, a Sunni stronghold, and Jabal Mohsen neighborhood, whose residents hail from the same Alawite sect as Assad. The communities’ long-running feud erupted into violence on Friday after dozens of people took to Tripoli’s Nour Square to show support for a three-month-old Syrian revolt. Security sources said between four and seven people, among them a boy and a soldier, were killed as street fighters attacked one another with assault rifles and grenades. At least 48 people were wounded.
Britain urged its nationals on Saturday to leave Syria “now” by commercial means, warning that its embassy in Damascus would unlikely be able to help them if the situation deteriorates further. “British nationals should leave now by commercial means while these are still operating,” the Foreign Office said in updated travel advice.
Outgoing Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on Saturday the Arab world was worried about events in Syria. “There is a worry in the Arab world and in the region concerning the events in Syria,” Moussa told reporters. He dismissed the idea that his remarks constituted interference in Syrian affairs, saying that he was only expressing “concern about an important country,” and said “it’s normal that we should be worried.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, trying to break a deadlock over a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.