Syria unrest: Troops 'open fire in north-west'

YouTube grab purporting to show US ambassador Robert Ford (front right) and other diplomats attending mourning for Ghiyath Matar, Damascus, 13 September 2011 Robert Ford (right) was among several diplomats to join mourners in Damascus

Syrian security forces are reported to have launched a new operation against opponents of Bashar al-Assad's regime in the north-west of the country.

Activists said troops entered at least 10 villages or towns in the Jabal al-Zawiya area firing machine-guns.

Security forces had earlier fired tear gas at people who had been mourning the death of a rights campaigner in a suburb of Damascus, activists said.

The US ambassador had joined the mourners shortly before the incident.

Robert Ford was accompanied by other diplomats to mourn the death of Ghiath Matar, a rights advocate who was killed last week, reportedly under torture.

Activists said security forces fired tear gas at a tent where the mourners had gathered, but no-one was hurt.

Earlier visits by Mr Ford and his French counterpart to restive parts of Syria have angered the authorities, who have been engaged in a six-month campaign to quash opposition to Mr Assad's rule.

On Monday, the EU condemned Mr Matar's death "in the strongest terms", calling it "yet another sign of the brutality with which the regime responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people".

It called on Syria to release all detained protesters, "in particular Yahya Sharbaji, Amer Matar, Najati Tayara, Shadi Abu Fakher and Omar al-Assad".

Correspondents say the EU publishes the names in an attempt to protect the detained protesters.

'Roads cut'

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said soldiers swept into villages in the north-west on Wednesday.

"The roads connecting the villages have been cut, checkpoints erected and security forces are making arrests," the group said.

Activists say at least 19 people were killed on Tuesday in raids against anti-government protesters, mainly in the restive city of Hama.

Also on Tuesday, the Arab League called for an immediate end to the bloodshed and appealed to the army to pull out of Syrian cities.

According to the UN, more than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests began.

The government says hundreds of its personnel have been killed.

Foreign reporters have been severely restricted in their coverage of Syria, so news organisations are largely dependent on unverified amateur video and reports by rights groups.

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