Britain urges citizens to leave Syria immediately

Associated Press
Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood celebrity and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees waves as she exits a van surrounded by Syrian refugees  at the Altinozu refugee camp  near the Syrian border, Friday, June 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Selcan Hacaoglu)
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BEIRUT (AP) — The British Foreign office has urged British nationals in Syria to leave the country "immediately."

In a statement posted on the website of the British Embassy in Syria, the Foreign Office says Britons should leave "now by commercial means whilst these are still operating."

It says those who chose to remain in Syria should be aware that it's highly unlikely that the British Embassy in Damascus would be able to provide a normal consular service in the event of a "further breakdown in law and order."

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are also sponsoring a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria.

Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed in the three-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops backed by tanks and firing heavy machine guns swept into a village near the Turkish border Saturday as the army intensified operations in the northwest where their have been heavy clashes between loyalist troops and defectors.

The Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents anti-government protests, said troops backed by six tanks and several armored personnel carriers, entered Bdama in the morning. The village is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the Turkish border.

On Friday, Syrian forces swept into Maaret al-Numan, a town on the highway linking Damascus, the capital, with Syria's largest city, Aleppo. Saturday's assault on Bdama was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the west.

Also Saturday, the committees raised the death toll in Friday's anti-govnerment protests to 19.

The three-month uprising has proved stunningly resilient despite a relentless crackdown by the military, pervasive security forces and pro-regime gunmen. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as President Bashar Assad tries to maintain his grip on power.

Bdama is adjacent to Jisr al-Shughour, a town that was spinning out of government control before the military recaptured it last Sunday. Activists had reported fighting in Jisr al-Shughour between loyalist troops and defectors who refused to take part in a continuing carckdown on protesters seeking Assad's ouster.

The fighting in the area, that started nearly two weeks ago, displaced thousands of people including some 9,600 who are sheltered in Turkish refugee camps. On Friday, U.N. envoy Angelina Jolie traveled to Turkey's border with Syria to meet some of the thousands of Syrian refugees.

The uprising has proven to be the boldest challenge to the Assad family's 40-year dynasty in Syria. Assad, now 45, inherited power in 2000, raising hopes that the lanky, soft-spoken young leader might transform his late father's stagnant and brutal dictatorship into a modern state.

But over the past 11 years, hopes dimmed that Assad was a reformist, but rather a hardliner determined to keep power at all costs.

On Friday, 12 people were killed in the central city of Homs, two in the eastern town of Deir el-Zour and two in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, one in the northern city of Aleppo. A boy believed to be 16 years old, who was in the streets protesting, and another person died in the southern village of Dael, the Local Coordination Committees said.

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