Middle East

Syria forces kill eight in Kanaker raid - rights groups

Syria map

Syrian security forces have killed at least eight people in a raid on the town of Kanaker near the capital, Damascus, rights groups say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said locals tried to block roads with burning tyres and threw stones to stop troops and tanks advancing.

Several others were reportedly wounded while dozens were arrested, it said.

President Bashar al-Assad has been using the army to suppress a popular revolt which first broke out in March.

Human rights groups say that about 1,400 civilians and 350 security forces personnel have died in the four months of protest.

The government of Mr Assad - who has rejected calls to step down - blames the unrest on terrorists and foreign extremists.

Mosque shelter

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four tanks and a bulldozer entered Kanaker, 3km (20 miles) south-west of the capital, while 14 other tanks surrounded the town.

The group said the raid took place after electricity and phone lines were cut off in the area.

A large number of people, including many of the injured, reportedly took shelter in mosques.

Image caption Bashar al-Assad inherited the presidency and the leadership of the Baath Party from his father

The head of the opposition National Organisation for Human Rights (NOHR), Ammar Qurabi, said the dawn operation had also resulted in some 250 arrests.

Mr Qurabi told AFP news agency that 11 people had been shot dead rather than the eight reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

International journalists have been denied access to Syria, so the BBC is unable to verify reports.

Government forces are said to be intensifying their campaign ahead of Ramadan, when the opposition says it will launch daily demonstrations against the government.

Activists say hundreds of people have been arrested in the past few days, bringing the total number this week to as many as 2,000.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in neighbouring Lebanon says events such as those in Kanaker are no longer unusual.

Each week different places become flashpoints as the opposition continues its campaign of street protests and the government tries to reassert control, our correspondent says.

On Monday, state media reported that the government had adopted a draft law allowing the formation of political parties other than the ruling Baath party, in an apparent move to appease the opposition.

It followed a massive demonstration on Friday, when tens of thousands of Syrians again took to the streets in protest across the country, in defiance of the crackdown.

The government has blamed the revolt on "armed criminal gangs" backed by a foreign conspiracy.