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      ‘Tanks and Helicopters’ Mow Down Syria Protesters

      Death toll tops 1,200 civilians in 12-week struggle by Syrian despot to maintain power. Soldiers describe atrocities.
      By Gil Ronen
      First Publish: 6/11/2011, 11:35 PM / Last Update: 6/11/2011, 11:22 PM

      Screenshot

      The minority Alawite regime of Bashar Assad has brought in helicopter gunships and tanks to combat the ongoing citizens’ rebellion, according to eyewitness reports. The BBC quoted a Syrian refugee who had crossed the border into Turkey as saying that Assad’s tanks attacked a village near Jisr al-Shughour Saturday.

      About 120 members of Syria's security forces were killed at Jisr al-Shughour last week. The government blames local "armed gangs" but residents said the soldiers were shot by other soldiers when they refused to open fire on civilians. Jisr al-Shughour is described as resembling a ghost town after residents fled in fear of revenge by Assad's forces.
       
      AFP quoted Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as saying that helicopters flying over Maaret al-Numan, near Jisr al-Shughour, had fired on a police station which protesters had seized.
       
      Activists reported that helicopter gunships had been used fire at crowds for the first time on Friday. At least 30 people were reported dead in Friday’s violence, three of them in the capital Damascus.
       

      Video shows crowd coming under fire in Damascus.
       
      Over 4,300 people have escaped the bloodshed and sought refuge in Turkey, according to officials in Ankara. Some of these are deserting soldiers who refuse to shoot civilians.
       
      AFP quoted one such soldier, Tahal al-Lush, who described “cleansing” in Ar-Rastan, a town of 50,000 in Homs province.
      “We were told that people were armed there. But when we arrived, we saw that they were ordinary civilians. We were ordered to shoot them,” he said. “When we entered the houses, we opened fire on everyone, the young, the old… Women were raped in front of their husbands and children,” he said.
       
      A second deserting soldier, Mohammed Mirwan Khalaf, said he had been stationed in Idlib, near the border. “Just in front of me, a professional soldier pulled out his knife and stabbed a civilian in the head, for no reason,” he said.



      Video shows soldiers kicking a elderly civilian who pleads for mercy (caution: unpleasant viewing).