Last Updated: Wed Sep 21, 2011 09:29 am (KSA) 06:29 am (GMT)

Tanks and troops storm Syrian city; U.S. urges Russia to back U.N. ‘statement’

Lebanese and Syrian demonstrators chant slogans while gesturing as they march during a protest in solidarity with Syria’s anti-government protesters, in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. (Photo by Reuters)
Lebanese and Syrian demonstrators chant slogans while gesturing as they march during a protest in solidarity with Syria’s anti-government protesters, in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. (Photo by Reuters)

Syrian tanks stormed al-Kuswa in Damascus early Tuesday and encircled it totally, as heavy gunfire was heard in the region, Syrian activists told Al Arabiya.

Around 30 tanks and 60 trucks moved into al-Kuswa and security forces tightened their grip on all the entrances of the city, activists said, expressing fear that the move might be followed by a large-scale crackdown in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged Russia to support a “strong statement” at the UN Security Council over Syria’s crackdown on protests, senior U.S. officials said.

In her talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Clinton expressed “our interest in seeing the Security Council go on record with a strong statement on Syria,” a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity, according to AFP.

“The Russians as well are concerned about the situation in Syria, and the violence,” the official told reporters after the two top diplomats held talks ahead of the U.N. General Assembly opening Wednesday in New York.

“The secretary urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to support a strong expression from the Security Council because she doesn’t believe the United Nations Security Council should be silent in the face of such inexcusable violence,” he said.

The official did not elaborate on what form the statement should take.

Russia last month proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria that would omit Western calls to sanction President Bashar al-Assad for his deadly crackdown on opposition protests, diplomats said.

Another senior U.S. administration official said that “the secretary made a strong case for why a Security Council action is necessary this time, given the actions that the Syrian government is taking against its own people.”

“Foreign Minister Lavrov presented his perspective, which was that the best way forward is through dialogue between Assad and members of the opposition,” the official said.

“The secretary encouraged him to think carefully about the role that the Security Council could play in a moment when the Syrian government is killing its own people and imprisoning thousands of people unjustly,” he said.

“I cannot say that the foreign minister agreed to that, but the secretary's position was unequivocal. It was firm and it’s a position that we’ll continue to advocate to the Russians and others as we go forward,” he said.

“And the Russians did agree during the meeting to continue having the conversation over how the Security Council could act on the situation in Syria going forward,” the official said.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian forces shot dead at least six villagers and two rebel soldiers, in a sweep of countryside north of the city of Homs, one of the most defiant regions in pro-democracy protests, activists and residents said.

The United Nations human rights division said pro-Assad forces had killed 2,700 protesters since an uprising demanding his removal started in March, including at least 100 children.

Human rights campaigners and Western diplomats in Syria also report increased assassinations of protest leaders, more deaths from torture and mass arrests that have seen tens of thousands of Syrians detained, focusing recently on professionals and academics critical of President Assad.

“Crimes against humanity are being committed in Syria and the leaders of the regime will have to answer for them,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, according to Reuters.

Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago, has repeatedly said he was resisting a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria and that use of force had been limited, with the majority of Syrians backing him.

An adviser to Assad, on a visit to Moscow this month, said reports of mass civilian killings had been exaggerated by the media and that the only casualties were 700 soldiers and policemen killed by terrorist groups and a similar number of what she described as mutineers.

A National Council formed by the opposition and announced in Istanbul last week, as well as civic figures who met in Syria at the weekend, have appealed to protesters to maintain the peaceful nature of the uprising and warned against falling into what they see as sectarian strife being stoked by Assad.

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