Syria province 'left empty'
Villages and fields deserted in wake of regime's killing spree
Published 22/06/2011 | 05:00
A province in northern Syria has been left almost entirely deserted after a "scorched-earth" campaign by government forces, a diplomatic mission to the area has discovered.
Western envoys and United Nations officials taken on a government tour of Idlib, a region close to the Turkish border, reported seeing deserted villages and mile after mile of abandoned fields. The mission provided the first independent glimpse into the scale of the military operation mounted by President Bashar al-Assad's feared brother Maher against opponents of the regime.
Fresh violence has erupted throughout the country, much of it aimed at anti-government protesters whose grievances Mr Assad claimed to have understood in an address to the nation on Monday.
In the city of Hama at least eight people were killed, activists said, among them a 13-year-old boy.
In Deir el Zour, residents said that troops in armoured personnel carriers killed three people when they opened fire indiscriminately.
After Mr Assad boasted in his speech that the people loved him "more than ever", tens of thousands of loyalists rallied in Damascus and at least three other cities.
Fighting broke out with opponents of the regime in what observers said was a rare and worrying sign of disintegration within Syrian society.
Activists reported that a number of wounded protesters were beaten before being dragged into police stations.
Mr Assad announced an amnesty for all those arrested during the three-month uprising, but with some 10,000 believed to be in custody it remains to be seen how complete it will be.
More than 10,000 refugees have fled into Turkey, with thousands more hiding on the Syrian side of the frontier.
Amid international outrage at the bloodshed in Syria in which more than 1,300 people have died, France delivered an implicit rebuke of Russia for blocking a UN Security Council resolution against the Assad regime.
Signalling a slight shift in Russia's position, Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, called for international pressure on the regime, while ruling out intervention. (© Daily Telegraph, London)