European nations condemn Syria's violent crackdown on protesters

In a coordinated rebuke, five European nations summoned Syrian diplomats to condemn Damascus' violent suppression of protests, even as security forces in the Middle East nation surrounded key cities before another anticipated round of violent confrontations after Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, Syrian authorities tightened their grip on the besieged southern city of Dara, the site of a fierce crackdown in recent days that is thought to have resulted in more than two dozen killings. All telephone communications with Dara have been cut off for days, and video footage posted online Wednesday showed a convoy of trailer trucks carrying tanks headed to the city.

The arrest and alleged torture of a group of teenagers in Dara last month sparked the uprising. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 453 people have been killed since the protests began.

After a weekend of clashes that saw at least 120 people killed by security forces, Friday will be a test for the opposition's staying power.

"There is fear," said a resident of the northern port city of Baniyas, which has been a major protest center. The authorities "are trying to negotiate with us, but the people have demands. I expect more demonstrations on Friday."

The city of Duma just outside Damascus has been the site of especially intense security measures, with reports of sweeping arrests and house raids.

"Everyone who goes in or out is being searched," an activist from Duma who is now in Damascus said in a Skype conversation. "In some of the squares the army is putting up barricades as if they are preparing for a real war against the protesters and passersby."

The Syrian envoys to Britain and Spain were called in Tuesday for a dressing-down, while France summoned the Syrian ambassador Wednesday to express condemnation of the "escalation in repression," according to Agence France-Presse.

Italian officials were due to speak to the Syrian ambassador to Rome soon, and Germany is also expected to participate in the concerted effort.

In London, the Foreign Office told Syrian Ambassador Sami Khiyami that it condemned Damascus' "unacceptable use of force" against protesters and that it expected President Bashar Assad to halt all attacks.

The British government said Syria was at "a fork in the road" and could still take the "path of reform" if it immediately stopped its brutal repression of dissent.

Even as European nations pressed their case to Syria, the U.N. Security Council failed Wednesday to agree on a statement several of those countries had drafted condemning Syrian violence against peaceful protesters, the Associated Press reported.

Lutz is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.

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