Middle East

Syrian president says security services made mistakes

Syrian security services personnel in Deraa (22 March 2011)
Image caption Mr Assad said 4,000 personnel would receive training "to prevent these excesses" being repeated

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the authorities have made some mistakes in their handling of anti-government protests since mid-March.

Mr Assad told a group of dignitaries that most of the blame lay with poorly trained members of the security services, the al-Watan newspaper said.

But he said Syria had now "overcome the crisis" and it was coming to an end.

The admission came as the BBC received new reports of attacks on civilians in a town near the border with Lebanon.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon told the BBC they had fled scenes of great violence in the town of Tal Kalakh, which has been under siege by the army for several days. Activists say at least 27 people have been killed.

In Syria itself, a general strike called by an influential anti-government website, Syrian Revolution 2011, appears to have had little impact.


Residents of the capital said no-one would dare answer the call.

The Syrian leader told a delegation from the southern Damascus district of Midan that his security services had made mistakes handling protests, al-Watan reported on Wednesday.

He attributed the shortcomings to a lack of experience with such situations, which he said would normally be the police's responsibility.

One delegate said Mr Assad had told them that 4,000 personnel would receive training "to prevent these excesses" being repeated.

"The role of the security services is to gather information, analyse it and hand it over to the proper authorities," the president said.

The report also said Mr Assad "gave assurances that Syria had overcome the crisis" and that "events were coming to an end".

Despite the comments, thousands of Syrian civilians, mostly women and children, are continuing to flee the violence in Tal Kalakh, a town west of the city of Homs and not far from the northern Lebanese border.

The refugees told the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones that the Syrian army had come with tanks and armed civilians, and fired on their homes.

Shot over a cow

One woman described how a relative was killed when she fled.

Having started her escape, she turned back because she decided she wanted to bring her cow with her. She was shot in the head.

A man added: "They were raping women, then killing them, and destroying their homes. They took everything from their houses, and then destroyed them."

Officials have told the state news agency, Sana, that the violence is being carried out by armed gangs who have crossed into Syria from Lebanon.

But the refugees blamed the Syrian army and said they had no idea when they would be able to go back to their homes.

They are now staying with local families and receiving food and medicines from charities.

A resident of Tal Kalakh told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that tanks were continuing to shell the town, and that soldiers were storming houses looking for protesters and making many arrests.

Water and electricity supplies and telephone lines had been cut, he said.

Activists later told the AFP news agency that at least eight people had been killed on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government has said it is imposing sanctions on Syria because of the violent repression of protesters.

It is restricting arms sales, freezing assets and instigating travel bans for 13 senior officials named by the EU on 9 May.

Activists say more than 850 people have been killed and thousands arrested in the crackdown launched to quell dissent two months' ago. The US said on Tuesday that nearly 1,000 might have died.

The authorities blame most of the violence on "armed criminal gangs", saying they have killed more than 120 soldiers and police.

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