DAMASCUS // Syrian troops killed seven civilians yesterday when they stormed two villages in the north-west to quash dissent against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, a rights activist said.
The latest military action came as hundreds of lawyers staged a sit-in in the city of Aleppo calling for freedom and the release of prisoners, and regime loyalists held a counter-protest, activists said.
The Aleppo sit-in came as calls mounted on the internet for a massive rally to take place today in the city, the country's economic centre.
Tanks rolled into Mar-Ayan and Ihsem in the northwestern province of Idleb "opening fire and killing at least seven people," an activist in the region of Jabal al-Zawiyah, home district of the two villages, said in Nicosia by telephone.
"The men are fleeing the villages because they are afraid they will be arrested," the activist said.
Earlier the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said soldiers were conducting searches in the villages.
"Tanks and troop carriers entered the villages of Mar-Ayan and Ihsem. They are currently at the outskirts of Al-Bara," a hamlet known for its Roman remains, said Rami Abdel Rahman.
"The soldiers are deployed in the villages and are conducting searches," the head of the London-based Observatory said by phone.
The Observatory says 1,342 civilians have been killed since mid-March in a crackdown by President Bashar Al-Assad's regime on the reformist movement and that 342 security force personnel have also died.
On Tuesday, tanks rumbled into another Idleb village, Al-Rami, which is just off the motorway leading to Aleppo.
Meanwhile some 300 lawyers organised staged a sit-in at the Aleppo courthouse chanting slogans for liberty and the release of political prisoners, activists said.
At the same time other, pro-regime lawyers gathered in a different room in the courthouse to pledge their allegiance to the regime.
Pro-democracy activists on Facebook have called for a rally to take place today in Aleppo, where anti-regime protests have been largely muted since the pro-democracy movement broke out in mid-March.
"Revolutionaries, come to Aleppo and Idleb provinces and go to central Aleppo tomorrow, Thursday, to protest and to light the spark of the Revolution," said the message posted on the internet.
Abdel Rahman said a leader of the opposition Socialist Union Party was arrested in Aleppo on Tuesday evening, while a prominent member of a Kurdish opposition party was detained in Al Hasakah in the north-east.