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DAMASCUS - Syria sent more troops to the southern town of Daraa where a deadly crackdown against pro-democracy

The crackdown continues

Syria sends more troops to southern town of Daraa as deadly crackdown against protestors raged into second day.

 

 protesters raged into a second day Tuesday, activists said, as Washington considered "targeted sanctions" against Damascus.

Britain said it was working with Washington and the European Union to send a "strong signal" to Syria, while France also called for measures and joined forces with Italy to denounce the "unacceptable" situation in Syria.

Meanwhile the United States ordered non-essential embassy staff to leave Syria which has been shaken by six weeks of protests against President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic rule.

Close to 400 people have been killed by security forces firing live rounds and tear gas since March 15, activists say, including 25 on Monday alone when the Daraa crackdown was launched, and scores arrested.

"New army troops and security reinforcements have entered Daraa and a tank was deployed in the central Kaziat al-Balad square," Syrian activist Abdullah Abazid said by telephone from Daraa near the Jordanian border.

Abazid said troops were firing on residents and a mosque and had laid siege to the home of Daraa's top Muslim cleric, Mufti Rizk Abdulrahman Abazeid, who quit last week in protest at crackdowns on protesters.

"The bullets continue against the people, but we are resisting," he said.

"Abu Bakr Assidiq mosque is coming under intense fire and a sniper is posted on the Bilal al-Habashi mosque. Tanks and roadblocks are deployed at the entrance of the town," preventing anyone from entering.

Residents complained that water and electricity had been cut throughout Daraa since dawn Monday, when 3,000-5,000 Syrian troops backed by tanks and snipers rolled into the town.

Also on Tuesday authorities referred to military court prominent Syrian dissident Mahmud Issa for ownership of a satellite phone, a week after his arrest and an interview he gave Al-Jazeera television, a top activist said.

"Mahmud Issa will be tried by a military court for owning a Thuraya phone and a high-tech computer," said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Issa was twice jailed in Syria for a total of 11 years.

Abdel Rahman said authorities arrested activist Qassem Azzawi on Tuesday for taking part in an anti-regime protest last week and rounded up 43 people since Monday in raids across the country while 11 others were freed Tuesday.

Activists on Monday said that at least 25 people were killed in the Daraa assault and Abazid said he had the names of 21 dead. A group of activists gave the names of seven dead, including a father and his two sons.

Amnesty International said tanks were used to shell civilian buildings in Daraa, commenting: "The Syrian government's brutal reaction to its people's demand for change has reached a new and outrageous low.

The operation in Daraa came four days after Assad scrapped nearly five decades of draconian emergency rule and abolished the repressive state security court to pacify protesters demanding reforms and the fall of the regime.

The Syrian army said the troops entered Daraa "in response to calls for help from" citizens to rid them of "extremist terrorist groups" behind a spate of killings and sabotage.

A huge crackdown was also reported Monday in Douma, a large suburb in northern Damascus, and nearby Al-Maadamiyeh, said activists and residents reached by telephone. Due to poor communications, it was not possible to get an update of the situation in the two suburbs on Tuesday.

The United States ordered the evacuation of non-essential embassy staff from Syria, where the first US ambassador in six years to his post just three months ago.

The Philippines on Tuesday called on its 17,000 citizens in Syria to leave, in the face of growing violence there. Washington last week urged its citizens to leave.

Washington is also considering imposing "targeted sanctions" against Damascus, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said on Monday.

Britain, Italy and France denounced the "violent repression" in Syria as British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London was working with the United Nations and the European Union to send a "strong signal" to Damascus.

Paris called for "strong measures" against Syria, a French foreign ministry spokeswoman said as President Nicolas Sarkozy branded the situation "unacceptable" but insisted France would not intervene in Syria without a UN Security Council resolution.

Diplomats said Monday that Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are seeking a UN Security Council condemnation of the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in Syria and a call for an independent investigation

 

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