Syrian tanks enter Turkey border village

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Army tanks on Saturday entered a village bordering Turkey, where 10,000 Syrians have sought refuge, an activist said, as Washington warned Damascus over its "continued brutality" against protesters.

With the deadly revolt now in its fourth month, Britain urged its nationals to leave Syria "now" by commercial means, warning that its embassy in Damascus was unlikely to be able to help them in the event of a further deterioration.

As many as 19 people were killed in protests around the country on Friday, the Local Coordination Committee of anti-government activists said, although it added that it had collected only 12 names so far.

Syrian soldiers in at least six tanks and 15 troop transporters entered the border village of Bdama on Saturday, widening the crackdown focused in the northwestern province of Idlib, activist Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "heavy gunfire" broke out as the troops entered the village, a few kilometres (miles) north of the flashpoint town of Jisr al-Shughur.

Residents of Bdama had been supplying refugees fleeing across the border from the Jisr area, he said, contacted by telephone from Nicosia.

As Syrians prepared to bury the latest to die at the hands of the security forces, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the government's "continued brutality" may delay but will not reverse the process of change.

Rights activists said protests broke out after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday as the army pressed its campaign against northern towns and the number of refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey topped 10,000.

Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported that the refugee figure went up after another 421 Syrians, mostly women and children, arrived at tent cities which the Turkish Red Crescent has erected in the border province of Hatay.

Abdel Rahman said the deadliest incidents on Friday took place in the central city of Homs where five people were shot dead.

About 5,000 protesters gathered in Homs, he said, adding demonstrations gripped several other cities and towns including Jableh in the west and in Suweida in the south, where club-wielding forces dispersed hundreds.

The United States is weighing whether war crimes charges can be brought against Damascus to pressure the government to end its bloody crackdown on dissent, a senior administration official said.

Other measures, including sanctions targeting the country's oil and gas sector, are being considered as part of a broader diplomatic campaign to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

Clinton on Saturday urged a transition to democracy in Syria, saying in a commentary in the Arabic-language Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the government's crackdown would not quell the momentum for change.

Under the headline "There Is No Going Back in Syria," she wrote that it was "increasingly clear" the crackdown was an irreversible shift in Syria's push towards reform, in an English translation provided by the State Department.

The regime's "continued brutality may allow (Assad) to delay the change that is under way in Syria, it will not reverse it," Clinton wrote in the pan-Arab daily published in London.

In Friday's violence, witnesses told AFP that a gunman opened fire on a police station in Rikn al-Deen, in Damascus, during a protest, killing a policeman and wounding at least four.

State news agency SANA also reported casualties among the ranks of the security forces. "A member of the security forces was martyred and more than 30 were wounded by gunfire in Homs," the news agency said.

It added that two officers and four members of the security forces were wounded when gunmen attacked a recruitment centre in Deir Ezzor, northern Syria, while three policemen were hit by gunfire in the Qabun neighbourhood of Damascus.

The military has pressed ahead with its crackdown in the northwest, sending tanks and troops into the town of Khan Sheikhun and surrounding villages, according to activists and witnesses.

The Syrian Observatory said on Tuesday that the violence has claimed the lives of nearly 1,300 civilians and 340 security force members since it broke out in mid-March.

© 2011 AFP

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