The US has strongly condemned Syria's "outrageous use of violence" against anti-government protesters.
The White House said the government was leading Syria down a "dangerous path" and called for "an immediate end to the brutality and violence". At least 28 people were killed in fresh clashes in Idlib province on Friday. The violence came as government forces moved on the town of Jisr al-Shughour where the government said 120 security personnel had been killed. Hundreds of civilians have fled north into Turkey to escape the assault.
In a statement, White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated calls for the Syrian security forces to exercise restraint, and said the US stood by those Syrians who were "demanding dignity and the transition to democracy that they deserve". "The Syrian government is leading Syria on a dangerous path," he said. "For that reason, it is critical that all Syrians remain united, work to prevent sectarian conflict, and pursue their aspirations peacefully." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also expressed concern over the high civilian toll, describing the use of military force as "unacceptable". A spokesman for Mr Ban said he was "keen to speak to" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but that the president has repeatedly been "unavailable" in recent days. Syria has prevented foreign journalists, including those from the BBC, from entering the country, making it difficult to independently verify reports from there. But anti-government activists said about 15 people died in the northern province of Idlib on Friday, most of them in Maarat al-Numan where tanks and helicopters fired on protesters who had taken to the streets after prayers. Correspondents say it is the first reported use of air power to quell protests in Syria's three-month uprising. A Syrian opposition figure told the Associated Press news agency by telephone that thousands of protesters had overwhelmed security officers and set light to a courthouse and a police station in the town. State TV reported that armed gangs had attacked police stations in the town. Another five anti-government protesters were killed in the coastal city of Latakia, according to activist sources. Two people were reported killed by security forces in Busra al-Harir, southern Deraa province, and another four in the Qaboun district of the capital, Damascus. Jisr al-Shughour was said to be all but deserted as troops moved in on Friday, reportedly bulldozing homes and torching crops and fields on their way. Opposition activists earlier told the BBC that the army was adopting a "scorched earth policy" around the town. The Syrian government has not commented on the claim. "They said they even killed animals," one man who had fled Jisr al-Shughour told AP. "The people have no weapons, they can't defend themselves. The only thing they can do is escape." Witnesses reported explosions coming from near the town and helicopter gunships and tanks were said to be opening fire. The crackdown in Jisr al-Shughour had been long expected after the government blamed armed groups for the deaths of 120 security personnel in the town earlier in the week. Some reports suggested there had been a mutiny among security forces. State TV has been broadcasting images of what it says are soldiers and police shot dead in the town. Officials say local people requested military intervention to restore order. Since March, mass protests against the rule of President Assad have become a regular event following Friday prayers. Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have died as the government tries to suppress dissent, most of them unarmed civilians. The government rejects the figures and says about 500 security forces have died. With the unrest showing no sign of abating, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for immediate access to those affected by the violence and those arrested or detained. Turkey - which shares a long border with northern Syria - says more than 2,000 Syrians have crossed over, seeking refuge from the expected retaliation on Jisr al-Shughour. The city has a population of about 50,000. It is not clear how many other residents have fled to other locations within Syria. Are you in Syria?
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