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March 23, 2023

At least 38 dead as Syrian tanks attack eastern city

DAMASCUS – At least 38 people have died after the Syrian army stormed Deir al-Zour, the largest city in the east and a scene of frequent protests, activists say, according to the BBC. Scores of tanks and armoured vehicles are reported to have entered several areas of the city after a heavy bombardment that began before dawn. At least 13 other people have been killed in Homs province, activists say.

President Bashar al-Assad has defended his security forces’ deadly crackdown on dissent. “Syria is on the path to reform,” he was quoted as telling Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour by the state news agency, Sana. “To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state, which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians,” he added.

Assad’s comments came after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged him to stop the use of military force against civilians immediately. In a telephone call on Saturday, Ban “expressed his strong concern and that of the international community at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days”, a UN spokesman said. It was the first such communication in several months; the UN says Assad had been refusing to accept calls from the secretary general.

Activists say at least 1,650 civilians have been killed and ten of thousands arrested since the uprising began in mid-March. Access to Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and activists.

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