Hundreds of Syrians fled into Lebanon on Saturday after Syrian army troops assaulted a border town, killing at least three people and arresting hundreds in the latest phase of a ferocious crackdown on the two-month uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
Backed by dozens of tanks, Syrian troops entered the town of Tall Kalakh, about 25 miles from the Lebanese border, before dawn, following the pattern of raids on other cities like Daraa, Baniyas and Homs. The assault came a day after another Friday of protests and an announcement by the Syrian government that a national dialogue would begin this week.
Even though the death toll in the protests on Friday paled compared with past weeks, the assault seemed to show that the government would persist with a crackdown that has led to the deaths of hundreds and the detention of thousands in one of the most brutal campaigns of repression since the so-called Arab Spring began. The uprising has represented the most serious challenge to the four decades of rule by the Assad family, though Syrian officials have maintained that they have the upper hand.
Fayaz Abdallah, a local official from the Lebanese village of Awadeh, across from Tall Kalakh, said at least 600 Syrian families had fled to Lebanon since Saturday morning. He said that most of them were women and children. In all, Lebanese border officials say, at least 5,000 families have fled Syria since the beginning of the uprising in mid March, when protests in the southern town of Daraa over the arrests of youths set off nationwide demonstrations.
Libyans buried nine bodies Saturday in a dusty cemetery along Tripoli's Mediterranean shore, and the Libyan government said the men were Muslim religious leaders killed Friday in a NATO airstrike in the eastern Libyan town of Brega. If true, that would represent the largest loss of civilian lives in a NATO strike since the allied operation began. NATO, however, said in a statement Saturday that it had struck a command-and-control bunker that was being used to coordinate strikes against civilians. It said it had not been able to confirm the validity of the government's claim. Accounts at the funeral, which drew about 500 people, suggested that not everything the government said was accurate. At least one of the dead was an oil field engineer, not a religious leader, according to a family member.
Gunmen killed six soldiers at a checkpoint in the central province of Bayda and fled on Saturday, a day after seven Yemeni soldiers died in two ambushes. Security forces, meanwhile, clashed with protesters calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz, leaving scores injured, officials and medics said Saturday. Police fired rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas at protesters who had chained three government offices there as part of a civil disobedience campaign, activist Ghazi al-Samai said in Taiz.
Abdulaziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, an envoy for Bahrain's rulers, told reporters Saturday that they hope to pursue dialogue with opposition groups after emergency laws are removed next month.
Khalifa said the planned June 1 lifting of the measures — which give wide powers to the military — offers a chance for talks with Shiite-led protesters in the gulf kingdom, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Bahraini authorities in March crushed the uprising with sweeping crackdowns aided by a Saudi-led military force.
Information from the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.