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In Syria, Deadly Uprising Continues Amid Calls to Rein in Violence

June 8, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the uprising in Syria.

Government troops have massed in a northern province where there are reports of fighting between those loyal to President Bashar Assad and defectors. Opposition forces have staged weeks of demonstrations throughout the country, calling for an end to the Assad family’s 40-year rule.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News prepared this report from London. Many of the images come from amateur video posted online.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Opposition activists filmed these troops heading towards Jisr Al-Shugur. They’re believed to be commanded by the Syrian president’s younger brother. The government says their mission is to avoid casualties. But there are reports of heavy fighting outside the town tonight, and, inside, a ghost town.

The only sound is bird song in streets where over 40,000 people usually live. They fled when they heard the army was coming, says the cameraman, after what may have been the bloodiest rebellion yet in this 11-week-old uprising.

This is how state television reported that uprising — 120 members of the security forces killed by terrorists, it said.

MAN: The picture emerging from Jisr Al-Shugur shows an aspect of the savage massacres committed by the armed terrorist organizations against the security and police forces.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Survivors said they had been ambushed by gunmen near Jisr Al-Shugur, which is about 12 miles from the Turkish border.

Anti-government demonstrators say this is a lie, posting video on YouTube of protesters they say were shot by the security forces. Foreign journalists are banned, and the truth is elusive — but, on the border itself, a forlorn image of fear. Hundreds have escaped here and hundreds have crossed into Turkey after the Turks said they would open their doors.

“We don’t want you, President Assad,” this refugee says. “You’re killing people.” Those still trapped in Syria claim the only soldiers killed were defectors shot by the army, as well as unarmed civilians.

WOMAN (through translator): We don’t want the army to come in. Our youth has been killed. I lost four of my cousins. My first son is injured. My second son is injured. My cousin is dead. We have had enough of the paramilitaries.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: What’s more, this military defector, his I.D. card in hand, claims he saw no rebel gunmen in northern Syria, only peaceful demonstrators.

MUSTAFA AHMAD ALMOOSAWY, Syrian military defector (through translator): The demonstrators were not carrying anything. They were not out for a fight. They were just calling for freedom. We used light ammunition, of course, and we left a lot dead and injured.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the United Nations today, Britain and France proposed stronger sanctions on Syria, adding to those imposed by the U.S. and others.

And, tonight, the Obama administration announced that it would support the latest move to condemn Syria. Activists say more than 1,300 people have died since the uprising began nearly three months ago.