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SYRIA: Four reported dead; president to start meeting with opposition

May 14, 2011 | 12:07 pm


Hundreds fled across the Syrian border into Lebanon and three people were killed by military snipers in the western border town of Talkalakh Saturday, activists said, as embattled President Bashar Assad reportedly began arranging talks with opposition leaders.

Activists released the names of the three men killed Saturday, but the deaths could not be independently verified.

Syrian troops arrived to surround Talkalakh early Saturday and soon began shelling the city, particularly areas near the Lebanese border, activists said. News spread that more military vehicles were surrounding nearby cities and moving toward Talkalakh, leading many to flee to nearby towns or across the border, activists said.

Timeline: Uprising in Syria

Some residents were detained while others were injured crossing the border, activists said. At least one later died at a hospital in the Lebanese border town of Akkar, they said.

Lebanon’s interim Prime Minister Saad Hariri ordered government agencies to work with international aid groups to assist Syrians fleeing across the border, according to a statement released Saturday that said some of those who had arrived in Akkar were wounded.

Late Saturday, activists reported a new wave of arrests in the western city of Homs and military raids on homes in the coastal city of Baniyas.

At least 801 people have been killed since the protests began in March, according to Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. United Nations officials reported last week that between 700 to 850 people have been killed since the protests began.

A government-allied newspaper reported Saturday that Assad had created a committee to start talking with the opposition. The committee will include Vice President Farouk Sharaa, Vice President for Cultural Affairs Najah Attar, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and assistant Vice President Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nassif, Al Watan newspaper reported.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Photo: Hundreds of Syrians, including many women and children, fearing fresh violence as a result of anti-government protests, fled the country at the illegal Buqaya border crossing from Talkalakh to northern Lebanon's Wadi Khaled area Saturday. Credit: AFP / Getty Images