Pro-regime Syrians wave national flags and portraits of President Assad in a rally in Damascus on Sunday
Syrian troops are poised to intervene in the eastern border town of Al-Bukamal after pleas by residents for help against "armed groups," a pro-government daily reported on Monday. © LOUAI BESHARA - AFP/File
Pro-regime Syrians wave national flags and portraits of President Assad in a rally in Damascus on Sunday
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AFP
Last updated: July 19, 2011

Syria army poised to enter border town

Syrian troops are poised to intervene in the eastern border town of Al-Bukamal after pleas by residents for help against "armed groups," a pro-government daily reported on Monday.

Activists have said that one man was killed by security forces Saturday in Al-Bukamal, on the border with Iraq, and that the army was also eyeing Zabadani, a town on the border with Lebanon.

"Tension remains high in Al-Bukamal after the regrettable actions carried out by the armd groups," said the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper on Monday, a day after saying troops were ready to deploy there.

"The armed groups have committed acts of terrorism, ransacking public property. Terrorised residents have fled to neighbouring villages and to the (oil hub) city of Deir Ezzor," it said.

"Residents of Al-Bukamal have launched pleas for help asking for a quick intervention by the government to calm the situation," the newspaper said.

Al-Watan described Al-Bukamal as a border town "which has become a passage for weapons and money smuggling."

"This undermines the nation's stability," it added.

On Sunday, the newspaper warned that the situation in Al-Bukamal was "explosive" and that "the army is preparing to intervene" in the town.

"The authorities fear an armed revolt in this border town where (insurgents) can easily find logistical and political support," it said.

Since anti-regime protests began in Syria in mid-March, the government has consistently blamed the violence on foreign interference and "armed groups" seeking to "sow chaos."

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at least one civilian was killed in Al-Bukamal on Saturday when security forces opened fire to break up an anti-regime demonstration.

However, the official SANA news agency spoke of "armed terrorist gangs who stormed a government building and seized the weapons stored there," adding that three security personnel were killed and two kidnapped.

The military on Sunday also set its sights on the town of Zabadani near the Lebanon border as it pressed ahead in its campaign to overcome the revolt, an activist said.

"Security forces today penetrated Zabadani," 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of Damascus, said Abdel Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights.

"They searched houses and arrested more than 50 people," he said.

Meanwhile, Al-Watan reported that the "situation was back to normal" in the central city of Hama, the epicentre of anti-government protests earlier this month.

"People are reporting back to work," it added.

But fierce clashes erupted on Sunday between supporters and opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in another central city, Homs, leaving at least 30 people dead, said the chief of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, reached by telephone from Nicosia.

Abdel Rahman told AFP the fighting broke out late Saturday after three regime supporters kidnapped last week were killed and their dismembered bodies returned to their relatives.

"These clashes are a dangerous development that undermines the revolution and serves the interests of its enemies who want it to turn into a civil war," he added.

Activists say the countrywide anti-regime protests are peaceful and that the fierce government crackdown has left more than 1,400 civilians dead and seen thousands of people jailed.

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