Four killed in Syrian crackdown

Hundreds of Syrians fled to Lebanon and three people were killed by snipers in the western border town of Tall Kalakh on Saturday, activists said, as President Bashar Assad claimed to have begun arranging talks with opposition figures in the face of protests that have shaken his regime.

Activists released the names of the three men they said were killed Saturday, but the deaths could not be independently verified. Another person reportedly died after fleeing across the border, activists said.

Syrian troops surrounded Tall Kalakh 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 Tall Kalakh, leading many to flee to nearby towns or across the border, activists said.

Some residents were detained while others were injured crossing the border, activists said.


Late Saturday, activists reported a new wave of arrests in the western city of Homs and 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 recently reported 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 unnamed opposition figures. The committee will include Vice President Farouk Sharaa and Assistant Vice President Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nassif, the Al Watan newspaper reported.

Activists have dismissed the purported talks as a ploy to divert the attention of the international community.