Five killed as Syrian troops storm two towns

Syrian troops stormed a suburb of the capital Damascus and a town near the Iraqi border, killing at least five people in the latest raids as the government intensifies its crackdown on protesters ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, activists said today.

Activists expect anti-government demonstrations to escalate during Ramadan, which begins early next week. The raids by security forces appear to be an attempt by President Bashar Assad's regime to prevent wide-scale demonstrations when Muslims being the month of fasting from dawn to dusk.



Authorities have waged a brutal crackdown that activists say has killed more than 1,600 civilians since the protests against the Assad family's 40-year-old rule began in mid-March.



The government has sought to discredit those behind the protests by saying they are terrorists and foreign extremists, rather than true reform-seekers.



The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four people were killed during a raid on the Damascus suburb of Kiswah yesterday night. It also said that one person was killed when troops entered the eastern border town of al-Boukamal near Iraq's border.



The observatory said the deaths in Kiswah and al-Boukamal raised Friday's death toll to 12.



Mohammed Abdullah, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees, which track the protests in Syria, said at least six people were killed in the Kiswah raid. He said at least 22 were killed yesterday.



Ammar Qurabi, who heads the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said 19 people were killed on yesterday, including three in Kiswah and two in al-Boukamal.



It was not clear why the numbers were different but each group is known to have its own sources throughout Syria.



Tens of thousands of protesters calling for the ouster of Assad's regime took to the streets throughout Syria yesterday, urging fellow citizens who have remained on the sidelines to join them.



The observatory said Saturday that 1,888 people have been killed since the uprising began, including 1,519 civilians. It said the rest were members of the military and security forces.



The observatory is known to be more conservative about the numbers of people killed. Other groups such as Qurabi's NOHRS and the LCC put the death toll among civilian well above 1,600.



The uprising has been the most serious threat to the 40-year ruling dynasty of the Assad family.



Assad, who inherited power in 2000 after the death of his father, President Hafez Assad, has made a series of overtures to try to ease the growing outrage. He lifted the decades-old emergency laws that gave the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge, granted Syrian nationality to thousands of Kurds — a long-ostracized minority — and issued several pardons. AP

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