Syrian troops have widened a crackdown on towns near the Lebanese border, a day after activists said at least five civilians had been killed during house searches and funerals for anti-government protesters.
The military moved into the town of Quseir, located near Homs and 15km from the Lebanese border, on Sunday, prompting “hundreds” to flee, Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
Residents of Qusier said that shots had rung out overnight, Rahman said, adding that firing had also been reported from several Homs neighbourhoods.
Ali Hammud, the head of a Lebanese border village, said on Sunday that between 350 to 400 people had streamed into the area from Syria on Friday and Saturday, and that most had come from the villages of al-Hit, Dweik and Qusier.
Syrian troops were also reported to be securing towns near the northern border with Turkey.
Following on from crackdowns in Jisr al-Shughour and Khirbet al-Joz, tanks were reported to be rolling into the village of al-Najia on Sunday.
Al-Watan, a pro-government daily newspaper, said that Khirbet al-Joz was a “key crossing for armed groups from and to the Turkish” border.
The army was “now cleansing” the village of armed gangs, serucing roads and protecting residents, it reported.
Major-General Riad Haddad, Syria’s military spokesman, said on Sunday that 347 soldiers and police personnel have been killed since the unrest began.
He was earlier quoted by CNN as saying that 1,300 security forces personnel had been killed, but he later told the AP news agency that this was actually the number of wounded.
The SOHR says that 1,342 civilians have been killed in the government’s crackdown and 342 security force personnel have also died.
A prominent Syrian opposition figure, meanwhile, said about 200 regime critics and intellectuals will meet in Damascus on Monday to discuss strategies for a peaceful transition to democracy.
The one-day gathering, to be held at the Sheraton hotel in the heart of Damascus, will be the first such meeting inside Syria. Many of the participants have been jailed for years for opposing the government.
Dissident Louay Hussein said Syrian authorities had not objected to the meeting.
It will come one week after President Bashar al-Assad, in a nationally televised speech, spoke of convening his own national dialogue to discuss political reforms.
The opposition meeting is not part of the President’s proposed “national dialogue”.
“We will talk so that we can formulate a national strategy on how to end Syria’s current crisis,” Abdel Karim Rihawi, president of the Syrian League for Human Rights, told AFP.
Anwar Bunni, a prominent rights lawyer who has spent five years in jail, played up the meeting’s significance as “a first meeting of its kind at a public venue announced in advance.”
The opposition has made it clear that they will not take part in any talks until the crackdown on protests end.
‘Five civilians killed’
Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian security forces had killed five civilians during house searches and funerals held for anti-government protesters.
Two of the victims were killed in Kiswah, a suburb of Damascus, during funerals which turned into protests against President Assad, the London-based rights group said on Saturday.
Thousands of people marched in a funeral procession for some of the six demonstrators that activists said had been killed in the area on Friday.
The Observatory said three civilians were also killed on Saturday during house-to-house raids in the Barzeh district of Damascus and in Quseir.
“These regions have been seeing growing protests and the regime is using force to prevent them from spreading,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the group, told Reuters.
‘Gross rights violations’
On Friday, opposition activists said 20 people were killed and many more injured when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country following midday prayers.
Al Jazeera is unable to verify reports from Syria because of restrictions on reporting in the country.
The crackdown on protests has so far failed to silence the uprising that has now lasted more than 100 days.
Salil Shetty, chief of rights group Amnesty International, 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 Moussa in Egypt.
“In contrast to their vocal stance on Libya and support for international action, Arab countries have stayed largely muted on Syria.”
On Sunday, meanwhile, the Iranian government accused the European Union of conducting a “baseless” campaign against it, after three commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had sanctions imposed on them, with the EU alleging that they were providing support to the Syrian government in supressing protests.
“The baseless EU claims in connecting events in Syria to the Revolutionary Guards reveal the bloc’s efforts to create a campaign against the Islamic republic and to distort reality,” Ramin Mehmanparast, a foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement.
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