DAMASCUS (AFP) – Four civilians were shot dead by Syrian security forces on Saturday, as tanks entered a border village with Turkey and workers there scrambled to erect a tent city anticipating a new refugee exodus.
“Two civilians were killed in Kassir by gunfire from the security forces who have reinforced there since Friday” near the Lebanese border, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.
“The other two civilians lost their lives to security force fire during the funerals of victims killed on Friday” in Kiswah south of the capital, he said.
Tens of thousands of people calling for the regime’s ouster protested on Friday in response to a call by the Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011 — the driving force behind three months of anti-regime demonstrations.
Security forces used live ammunition and tear gas against the protesters, killing 18 people and wounding scores more, activists told AFP.
Five died in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh, six in Kiswah and seven in and around the central city of Homs, they said.
Abdul Karim Rihawi of the Syrian League for Human Rights said funerals were held on Saturday in all three protest centres for Friday’s victims.
“The army backed by tanks and troop carriers entered Al-Najia as part of its deployment in the province of Idlib,” Abdel Rahman said earlier of the situation along the border with Turkey.
Al-Najia is on the road linking the northwestern city of Latakia to Jisr al-Shughhur — home to 50,000 people, most of whom fled after the army seized the town on June 12, with many crossing into Turkey.
The latest operation came just days after the army moved into Khirbet al-Joz, another village near the border, and amid EU condemnation of Syria’s resort to “shocking violence” against peaceful dissent.
On Friday, the state-run SANA news agency reported that the army had “completed” its deployment in and around Jisr al-Shughur, and quoted a military official as urging villagers who had fled their homes to return.
The authorities blame “terrorist armed groups” for the unrest that has gripped Syria since pro-democracy protests broke out in mid-March, and say the military deployments are aimed at rooting them out.
The army’s sweep through protest centres in the northwest has sent nearly 12,000 Syrians fleeing to safety in neighbouring Turkey, which is scrambling to accommodate the refugees in its Hatay border province with Syria.
More than 200 tents have already been erected in the camp while another 1,000 are due to be ready in a week in the village of Apaydin with a capacity for up to 15,000 people, village headman Omer Cagatay said.
Syria’s Red Crescent chief, Abdurrahman Attar, said on Saturday that the refugees would not face retribution or interrogation if they returned home, Turkey’s Anatolia news agency reported.
“We, as the Red Crescent, guarantee that the Syrian government will not call (the refugees) to account and under no circumstances will security forces take decisions about them,” Attar was quoted as saying.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday ordered a general amnesty in a bid to quell rising unrest, a day after offering a “national dialogue.”
More than 150 people were rounded up between Friday and Saturday in house-to-house searches in Barzeh and some 70 arrests were made in Mareh near Aleppo, the Observatory said.
Protests in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, have been muted since the pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in mid-March.
But the Syrian Revolution 2011 called on demonstrators to “get ready for a volcano” in Aleppo next Thursday, in a message posted on its main Facebook page.
The Observatory says 1,336 civilians have been killed in the government’s crackdown and that 341 security force personnel had also lost their lives.
Amnesty International chief Salil Shetty, visiting Cairo on Saturday, urged Arab states to act to help end the violence in Syria.
“I urged the League of Arab states to take far stronger action on the gross human rights violations taking place in Syria,” Shetty said after meeting outgoing Arab League chief Amr Mussa.
“In contrast to their vocal stance on Libya and support for international action, Arab countries have stayed largely muted on Syria.”
EU leaders adopted a declaration in Brussels on Friday denouncing “in the strongest possible terms the ongoing repression and unacceptable and shocking violence the Syrian regime continues to apply against its own people.”
Opposition figures announced they will meet in Damascus on Monday to discuss “how to solve the crisis.”