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Thousands of Palestinian refugees flee camp, says UN

Assad’s troops are reportedly targeting local residents – including refugees, women and children – in an attempt to crush any protest against the regime in the city of Latakia.

Image: STR/AP/Press Association Images

MORE THAN 5,000 Palestinian refugees have fled a camp in the besieged Syrian city of Latakia after President Bashar Assad’s forces shelled the city during a broad military assault to root out dissent, the UN said Monday.

UNRWA, the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees, said the Palestinians fled after Latakia came under fire from gunboats cruising off the coast and ground troops attacking the city over the weekend. It was not immediately clear where the refugees were seeking shelter.

“We are calling for access to the camp to find out what is going on,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. “There were 10,000 refugees in the camp and we need to find out what is happening to them.”

Assad has dramatically escalated the crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Despite blistering international outrage, the regime is trying to establish firm control in rebellious areas by unleashing tanks, snipers and — in a new tactic — gunships.

On Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on Syria to immediately end the bloodshed and threatened unspecified “steps” if it fails to do so.

“If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken,” Davutoglu said, without elaborating.

Turkey, a former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus’ brutal crackdown. Davutoglu traveled to Syria last week and urged Assad to end the bloodshed. But Turkey, Syria’s neighbor and an important trade partner, has not joined the US and Europe in imposing sanctions.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Assad must “cease the systematic violence, mass arrests and the outright murder of his own people,” adding that the Syrian president “has lost legitimacy to lead.”

Carney said the US would be looking to apply further sanctions against Assad’s government, but it was unclear whether that was the extent of the administration’s “or else” part of the equation.

The military assault in Latakia was in its third day Monday after gunboats off the coast combined with ground troops Sunday for the first time in the uprising. Nearly 30 people, and possibly more, have been killed in the city since Saturday, activists say.

Soldiers also stormed the area of Houla in the central city of Homs, which has seen massive protests in recent months. A sniper killed an elderly man, according to the London-based Observatory for human rights, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria.

The group said more than 700 people have been arrested in and around Homs since the beginning of August.

- AP

Read: Syrian troops fire on fleeing residents in city of Latakia, say activists>

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