Syrian forces kill six as Russian envoy visits


Syrian security forces killed six people on Monday, activists said as a Russian envoy visited Damascus and the EU agreed to ban oil imports from the country over its brutal crackdown on protesters. A child was among five people killed when troops and security forces opened fire during search operations in the Sarmin district of northwestern Idlib province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One person died when part of his home was levelled as forces raked houses in Sarmin with heavy machine-gun fire, said the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman.

At least 60 people were also wounded in Sarmin and six houses were partly destroyed, he told AFP by telephone.

A sixth person was killed when security forces raided his home at dawn in the town of Qara outside Damascus during an arrest operation, the Local Coordination Committees reported.

Around 10 trucks and armoured vehicles rumbled into Qara, said the group which organises anti-regime protests and has militants on the ground across Syria.

It said about 40 people whose names were on a “wanted list” were detained.

Meanwhile, troops backed by tanks and personnel carriers early on Monday stormed the village of Hit, two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the border with Lebanon, south of the central city of Homs, Abdel Rahman said.

“There has been high intensity gunfire since 9:00 am (0600 GMT),” he told AFP, adding that at least five people were wounded and 13 were arrested.

“The homes of activists wanted by the authorities were torched,” he added.

Witnesses across the border said dozens of Syrian refugees poured into northern Lebanon on Monday as gunfire was heard and smoke billowed over the frontier.

“Some 12 families have crossed into Lebanon from the border town of Hit,” Mohammed al-Khatib, a van driver who had been transferring the refugees from the crossing, told AFP.

A Lebanese security official said 50-year-old Ali al-Ahmad, a Syrian refugee from Hit, was hospitalised on the Lebanese side on Monday with two gunshot wounds to his legs.

Thousands of Syrians have fled into Lebanon in recent months, often using illegal border crossings, to escape the unrest gripping their country.

Activists also reported six people killed by security forces on Sunday.

More than 2,200 people have been killed in the Syrian regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests since mid-March, according to the United Nations.

The latest bloodshed came as a senior Russian envoy said after talks in Damascus on Monday that there was no change in Moscow’s policy on Syria which has been opposed to Western calls for sanctions, Syrian state media said.

“Russia’s position on Syria is unchanged,” the official SANA news agency quoted deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying.

“The envoy affirmed his country’s support for the reforms launched by Syria in the political and economic fields and expressed hope that its security and stability would be maintained,” the agency added.

The Russian envoy, who held talks with both President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, underlined the “importance of continued coordination between the two countries in all fields.”

For his part, Assad expressed his appreciation for Russia’s “balanced approach to developments in Syria,” SANA added.

Moscow staunchly opposes attempts by Western governments to push through a UN Security Council resolution targeting Assad, and has circulated an alternative draft urging Syria to expedite reforms.

Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and the United States drew up their draft resolution last week but Russia and China have refused to attend informal talks on the document.

The European Union reached an agreement in principle on Monday to ban oil imports from Syria to punish the regime for its crackdown on protesters, diplomats said.

“There is a political consensus on a European embargo of imports of Syrian petroleum products,” a diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The new sanctions were backed by all representatives at a meeting of experts from the 27-nation bloc in Brussels, another diplomat said.

Individual EU governments are expected to give their final approval by the end of the week, the diplomat said.

The Syrian regime, which insists it is confronting “armed terrorist gangs,” came under harsh criticism at the weekend from the Arab League, of which it is a member, and from its neighbour Turkey.

On Sunday, the League announced plans to send its chief Nabil al-Arabi to Damascus to help solve the crisis, urging Syria to “follow the way of reason before it is too late.”