THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Syrian troops expand push to put stop to uprising

CRACKDOWN CONTINUES President Bashar Assad has abandoned most pretenses of reform as his military seals off strategic areas in Syria. CRACKDOWN CONTINUES
President Bashar Assad has abandoned most pretenses of reform as his military seals off strategic areas in Syria.
By Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Selcan Hacaoglu
Associated Press / June 15, 2011

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BOYNUYOGUN, Turkey — Syrian tanks and the government’s most loyal troops pushed into more towns and villages yesterday, trying to snuff out any chance that the uprising against President Bashar Assad could gain a base for a wider armed rebellion.

Facing the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty, Assad has abandoned most pretenses of reform as his military seals off strategic areas in the north and east — including the town of Jisr al-Shughour, which was spinning out of government control before the military moved in on Sunday.

“The (Syrian forces) damage homes and buildings, kill even animals, set trees and farmlands on fire,’’ said Mohammad Hesnawi, 26. He fled Jisr al-Shughour over the weekend to this border area of Turkey, where about 8,000 Syrians are seeking refuge in camps.

Prodemocracy activists, citing witnesses, said the military also surrounded al-Boukamal, along the Iraqi border. Syrian officials have expressed concern over a reverse flow of arms into Syria.

Activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have died and about 10,000 have been detained in the crackdown since March.

Assad initially responded with vague promises of reform, but the increasingly deadly government crackdown has only added fuel to the movement. Thousands of protesters across the country now vow to continue until Assad leaves power.

There is no sign of that, however. The crackdown has obliterated a view held by many in Syria and abroad of Assad as a reformer at heart, one constrained by members of his late father’s old guard who were fighting change, especially members of the Assads’ minority Alawite sect.

An offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, the Alawites represent about 11 percent of Syria’s population.

But Assad is now relying heavily on his Alawite power base to crush the resistance, particularly amid rumors that Sunni army conscripts have been refusing to fire on civilians.

The president and commander-in-chief’s latest military moves in the north and east are being carried out by his most trusted forces. The bloody new push, against civilians who took up arms and reportedly military mutineers, was clearly designed to keep the opposition from establishing a base, as happened in Libya, where rebels trying to overthrow Moammar Khadafy took over Benghazi.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States condemns the “barbaric acts’’ in Syria. In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Iran of assisting its ally Syria in the crackdown.

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