BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces pursuing anti-government protesters stormed a northern village Monday, killing at least one person and wounding many others during raids and house-to-house searches, activists said.
The operations in Sarameen in the northern Idlib province were accompanied by similar raids in the village of Heet near the border with Lebanon, along with a military buildup just outside the central town of Rastan, which has become a hotbed of dissent against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The prime minister of Turkey, a former close ally, warned Assad that his regime could face a demise like those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya if the violent suppression of protests does not stop.
Syria has come under blistering international condemnation for its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests that began in March, and U.S. and European leaders have demanded Assad step down.
But the comments from Turkey were some of the bluntest warnings yet and were particularly biting because they came from a leader whose government had extensive diplomatic ties with Syria.
"The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people’s demands," said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, speaking in his monthly address aired on Turkish TV late Sunday. "We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness."
"Demands for democracy and freedom are the people’s just demands. In today’s world, there is no place for one-man rule, for autocratic regimes and closed communities," he said.
In Sarameen, at least one person was killed and more than 20 wounded during security raids, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and the Local Coordination Committes, an activist group.
In the central town of Rastan, heavy machine gun fire by the security forces and the army was reported at its southern entrance.
The heavy deployment around Rastan, which started early Monday, sent residents fleeing out of fear the town would be stormed.
Rastan, on the main highway to Turkey, has been the site of intense anti-regime protests.
The operations there are part of the regime’s deadly crackdown on anti-government protests. Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising in March.
Similar operations were ongoing in Heet, where some residents were reportedly fleeing to Lebanon.
Rights groups said three people were killed overnight in the eastern town of al-Boukamal near the border with Iraq. Abdul-Rahman said the three were killed during raids by security forces in pursuit of activists in the town.
Sporadic gunfire and shootings were also reported in various parts of the country.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.
Zeina Karam can be reached on http://twitter.com/zkaram