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Middle East

Assad troops try to block rebels' supply line to Turkey

Syrian forces launched a sustained assault close to the border with Turkey yesterday in an attempt to cut off areas where the rebels have established de facto control.

The fiercest attack focused on the town of Darkush which has become a pocket of resistance to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Around 18 people are reported to have been killed and 30 injured when troops moved in during the morning. The city of Idlib, the largest in the region, was also hit by shellfire, reportedly leaving around 10 dead.

The routes from Turkey into Syria have been used to ferry in supplies for the revolutionaries and the fighting blocked a number of the routes. Mobile regime columns were carrying out operations further along the frontier, according to rebels.

The opposition maintained that a counter-attack in Kfar Tkharim, in the same area, had killed five soldiers and two more were captured, with clashes continuing into the evening.

The Syrian capital, Damascus, was also the scene of violence with live ammunition used on demonstrators yesterday, according to activists. Syrian forces, they added, had opened fire with live ammunition on demonstrators in the early hours of Tuesday, wounding at least four people.

"There were hundreds of demonstrators at the main square of Hajar al-Aswad, and suddenly buses of security police and shabbiha [pro-regime militia] turned up and started firing into the crowd," Abu Abdallah, an activist, said. Footage posted on YouTube, purportedly taken before the shooting, showed a crowd marching in the Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhood, carrying placards in support of the besieged city of Homs and singing: "Eyes are shedding tears for the martyrs among Syria's youth."

Seven people had been killed in government shelling of Homs's Baba Amr district on Monday, adding to a reported death toll of several hundred since the military operation began there in the first week of February. Activists in Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, cutting off neighbourhoods. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three children and a woman were among those dead.

The opposition Syrian National Council, meanwhile, called on the "Arab League and the Security Council to adopt procedural measures to end the barbaric attack on Homs, and to take necessary action to protect civilians, provide aid and treat the wounded".