Syria forces storm village, activists want UN protection

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Syria, accused by France of "crimes against humanity," on Thursday sent its security forces storming into a northwestern village where they killed three military defectors, rights activists said.

Pro-democracy activists, meanwhile, called for the United Nations to send international observers to Syria.

"The Syrian people calls on the United Nations to adopt a resolution to set up a permanent observer mission in Syria," activists said on their Facebook page, "Syrian Revolution."

"We demand access to the international media, we demand the protection of civilians," they said, calling for fresh demonstrations on Friday, the Muslim day of rest and prayers.

In the latest military operation, "a force comprising seven armoured vehicles and 10 jeeps stormed the village of Ibleen in Jabal Al-Zawiyah (region) in search of people wanted by the security services," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Heavy gunfire was heard as the forces stormed the village," the Observatory said in a statement received by AFP in Cyprus.

The head of the Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, later told AFP the three killings occurred during a raid on the house in Ibleen of a brother of one of the defectors, Hussein Harmouche.

Two other deserters were arrested, Abdel Rahman said, reached by telephone from Nicosia.

Harmouche, an officer, announced his defection in a June video widely distributed on the Internet and broadcast on Arab satellite channels, giving as the reason his refusal "to fire on unarmed civilians."

The United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since democracy protests flared in Syria in mid-March.

The assault on Ibleen comes a day after regime forces, according to an updated toll by rights activists, killed another 31 people, 29 of them in a tank-backed raid on the flashpoint central city of Homs.

The brutal crackdown on protesters has been widely condemned by world powers, some of which have slapped sanctions on the Damascus regime.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe pulled no punches during talks on Wednesday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

"The Syrian regime has committed crimes against humanity," Juppe said.

"The way it (the Syrian regime) suppressed the popular protests is unacceptable," he said, expressing hope that Russia would change its stance and back UN condemnation of the crackdown.

But Lavrov gave no signs of being ready to ease a Russian position that last week saw Moscow lash the European Union for imposing a crippling oil embargo on Syria.

"We are convinced that the essential thing is to start dialogue at the talks table," Lavrov said.

"We consider that inciting certain forces within the opposition to boycott the invitation to dialogue is a dangerous path and risks a repetition of the Libyan scenario, which neither Russia nor France wants."

Russia has staunchly opposed attempts by Western governments to push through a UN Security Council resolution targeting President Bashar al-Assad and has circulated an alternative draft calling for him to implement reforms.

The head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, is due in Damascus on Saturday after a planned visit on Wednesday was postponed.

Damascus had postponed the trip at the 11th hour "due to circumstances beyond our control."

Arabi has been commissioned by the 22-member Cairo-based pan-Arab organisation to travel to Damascus with a 13-point document outlining proposals to end the bloody crackdown on dissent and push Syria to launch reforms.

According to a copy of the document seen by AFP, Arabi is to propose that Assad hold elections in three years, move towards a pluralistic government and immediately halt the crackdown.

The initiative, agreed by Arab foreign ministers last month, angered Syria which said it contained "unacceptable and biased language."

Syria's regime, which has promised to launch a wide range of reforms to appease protesters, blames the unrest on foreign-backed "armed terrorist gangs."

© 2011 AFP

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