x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Scores of Syrians flee violence to Lebanon

As the conflict stretches into its eight week, with Syrian forces laying siege to protest cities and killing demonstrators, refugees are leaving the country in droves.

BEIRUT // Hundreds of Syrians, including four wounded people, crossed into Lebanon on Saturday fleeing violence in their country as an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime entered its eighth week, Lebanese security officials said.

The officials said cracks of gunfire coming from the western Syrian town of Talkalakh could be heard on the Lebanese side of the border since morning hours. More than 5,000 Syrians have fled the area in the past weeks, with more than 500 people crossing the border on Saturday, the officials said.

The shooting in Talkalakh comes a day after Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters at different rallies across the country, killing at least six people.

Human rights groups say more than 775 people have been killed since the start of the protest movement in Syria in mid-March.

The Lebanese officials said the wounded who crossed the border Saturday included a 26-year-old man who suffered a gunshot in his back and two women, also with bullet wounds. The fourth, a 30-year-old man, died of his wounds later at a north Lebanon hospital, the official said. The other three were being treated at two hospitals in the area, they said.

The Lebanese officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said authorities in Damascus detained on Friday lawyer and human rights activist Catherine al-Talli. The group also said that poet Ali Dirbak, 76, was detained in the coastal city of Banias for reading a poem during one of the recent anti-regime protests there.

On Friday, rallies had spread to new areas of the Syrian capital Damascus, suggesting opposition to the 40-year Assad dynasty remains unbowed despite one of the most violent crackdowns in the uprisings that have gripped the Arab world.

Assad's regime has blamed the unrest on terrorist, extremist groups and foreign agitators. Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud told reporters Friday that a "comprehensive national dialogue in all provinces" will start within days, but he gave no further details.

Assad has come under scathing criticism for his crackdown, with the United States and Europe imposing sanctions. On Friday, Britain summoned Syria's ambassador Friday to warn that new sanctions will target the regime's hierarchy if Assad doesn't halt the crackdown on protesters.

The crackdown has increased in intensity in recent days and weeks. The army shelled residential areas in central and southern Syria on Wednesday, killing 19 people, a human rights group said.

The government also laid siege to several towns, including Daraa - where the Syrian revolt erupted after youths sprayed pro-democracy graffiti on a wall - sparking fears of a humanitarian crisis. A U.N. international aid assessment team has not been allowed to enter Daraa to check on the situation.