Syrian activists said Thursday that troops backed by tanks and snipers have entered a village along the Turkish border as the regime expands its crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that has posed the gravest challenge to President Bashar Assad’s rule.
Thousands of Syrian refugees have been flooding into Turkey as the government tries to crush the 3-month-old uprising. The regime blames foreign conspirators and thugs for the unrest, but the protesters deny any foreign influence in their pro-democracy movement.
The Local Coordinating Committees, which track the Syrian protest movement, said Thursday that tanks had entered Khirbet al-Jouz and snipers were spotted on rooftops. The group cited residents on the ground in the village.
Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media, making it nearly impossible to independently confirm the accounts.
On Thursday, AP Television News journalists on the Turkish side of the border saw armed men near the village and an armored personnel carrier on its outskirts. It was not possible to see inside the village to confirm the activists’ reports.
Nearly 100 Syrians who were living in makeshift tents on the Syrian side of the border fled into Turkey as the village was surrounded and Turkey deployed guards along the frontier.
The opposition estimates 1,400 people have been killed and 10,000 detained in the Syrian crackdown, drawing international condemnation and sanctions.
On Wednesday, the Syrian regime lashed out at European governments for threatening a new round of sanctions and accused the West of trying to sow chaos and conflict in the Arab nation.
But Foreign Minister Walid Moallem also reiterated the president’s call for national dialogue and spoke of democracy over the horizon — a bold assertion after more than four decades of iron-fisted rule by the Assad family and months of bloody reprisals.
It was the regime’s latest attempt to blunt three months of widespread demonstrations, a movement that was inspired by pro-democracy upheavals elsewhere in the Mideast. A skeptical opposition rejected the overture while the Syrian military is occupying towns and shooting protesters. Seven were reported killed on Tuesday.
An official said the European Union is planning to hit the Syrian regime with more sanctions, targeting seven more individuals and four companies in a bid to stop the crackdown against protests. That would bring to 34 the number of Syrian individuals and entities that are hit with an asset freeze and travel ban.
The EU official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The 27-member bloc also has an embargo on sales of arms and equipment that can be used to suppress demonstrations.
Moallem said the suggestion “amounts to (an act) of war” and warned “we will forget that Europe is on the map.”
“Stop intervening in Syria’s affairs, do not stir chaos nor strife, the Syrian people … are capable of making their own future away from you,” he said. “Any external intervention is rejected.”