More than 30 die in Syria attacks


Syrian troops killed at least 38 people in a tank assault on the eastern city of Deir al-Zor today, activists said, despite a direct UN appeal to president Bashar al-Assad to stop using military force against civilians.

The assault on Deir al-Zor, capital of an oil-producing province, began one week after Assad sent the army to seize control of Hama, focal point of nearly five months of protest against his autocratic rule.

In a separate tank-led attack on villages in the Houla plain north of the central city of Homs, security forces killed at least 13 people, activists said.

"The numbers of casualties are escalating by the hour," activist Suhair al-Atassi, a member of the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Committee, said by telephone from Damascus.

The Arab League, in a rare response to the escalating bloodshed in Syria, joined the international wave of criticism today, calling on authorities to stop acts of violence against protesters, the Qatar News Agency reported.

Mr Assad defended the army campaign against what Damascus says is an armed insurrection.

"Dealing with outlaws and convicts who stage highway robbery and seal off cities and terrorise the population is a national duty," state news agency SANA quoted him as telling Lebanese foreign minister Adnan Mansour.

Syria has barred most independent media since the start of the uprising against Assad, making it hard to verify accounts from residents, activists and authorities.

An Assad adviser said neighbouring Turkey, which condemned the attack on Hama as an atrocity, should not meddle in Syrian affairs and warned foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu he would get a frosty reception when he visits Damascus on Tuesday.

"Early this morning columns of army tanks and bulldozers, under cover of heavy rounds of gunfire, stormed into the western and northern entrances of the city and dismantled barricades set up by residents," a Deir al-Zor resident said.

"A dozen tanks are taking position in the main square in Jubaila market in the northern sector of Deir al-Zor," the resident, who gave his name as Abu Bakr, said by telephone.

Cairo-based activist Ammar Qurabi said 42 people were killed in Deir al-Zor and 17 in Houla. Another 28 were killed overnight, he said, including eight in the northern province of Idlib after protests at evening prayers.

The Syrian Revolution co-ordinating union said 50 people were killed in Deir al-Zor. The military assault on Deir al-Zor, about 400km north-east of Damascus, was launched a day after UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told Mr Assad he was alarmed by the escalating violence and demanded he rein in the army.

Mr Ban "urged the president to stop the use of military force against civilians immediately", the UN's media office said.