Eighteen killed in Syria as military operations escalate

Eighteen killed in Syria as military operations escalate

Syrian security forces continued a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters across the country Tuesday, killing 18 people and arresting dozens, among them schoolchildren, activists said.

"A total of 18 people were killed across Syria by the Syrian security forces, among them 11 in Homs province," Omar Idlibi a Syrian activist based in Beirut told dpa.

He added that among the dead was a child from the province of Daraa.

Idlibi said the Syrian forces arrested 29 high school students in a raid in the southern province of Daraa, hotbed of the anti-regime dissent.

He said that more than 80 people were also detained in a wide-scale operation in the besieged city of Rankouz, near Damascus.

Earlier, Idlibi told dpa: "all entrances to the city are now closed and soldiers are carrying out house-to-house searches under heavy machine gun fire in search of army defectors, whom they believe are hiding in the area."

Meanwhile, the state-run Syrian news agency SANA said three "armed terrorists" were killed by security forces in the central city of Homs - which has been at the heart of anti-government protests. Government forces confiscated weapons, including grenades and sniper rifles, as well as communication devices.

The government has blamed the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which began in mid-March, on armed gangs financed by Arab and Western countries.

The continued violence prompted Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to call on its citizens to leave Syria and avoid travelling there.

"Due to the security situation, Saudi Arabia urges its citizens to leave Syria and not travel there," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by Saudi Press News Agency.

Other Gulf state countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have issued similar appeals in the last two weeks.

The 22-member Arab League had agreed to halt transactions with the Syrian central bank, freeze government assets, and suspend investments in the country after al-Assad's regime ignored a deadline to implement a peace plan.

More than 3,500 people have been killed since March, according to UN estimates.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva also accused Syria of numerous crimes against humanity in its crackdown on the eight-month-old campaign of protests.

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