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47 die in further Syria crackdown

Syrian forces killed at least 47 people across the country yesterday and moved into a town near the Turkish border, as President Bashar al-Assad shrugged off the threat of isolation to visit renewed bloodshed on his people.

Mr Assad defiantly declared an unceasing battle against the "terrorist groups".

He told visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu: "We will not waver in our pursuit of terrorist groups."

Army tanks and fighting vehicles advanced through deserted streets in both the west and east of Syria, bringing death and destruction to places that had hitherto been spared and inflicting fresh misery on cities still reeling from the onslaught of recent days.

The scale of the military operations suggested that Mr Assad was in no mood to heed the demands of Saudi Arabia and its allies for an immediate halt to the killing of civilians.

With Western pressure yielding few dividends, Syria's regional friends and champions in the wider world have taken it upon themselves to intervene in the worsening crisis.

In what appeared to be a gesture of defiance, Syrian tanks rolled into the village of Binnish, just 20 miles from the Turkish border, killing at least four people, according to opposition groups.

Turkey became a belated critic of the Syrian crackdown after thousands of civilians escaped on to its soil following an earlier military offensive against border towns and villages. The tales of horror the refugees brought with them did much to galvanise public opinion in Turkey against Mr Assad, leading to pressure on the government to take a firmer stance.

Brazil, India and South Africa, which all helped to scotch Western attempts to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution against Syria, are also to send envoys to Damascus to plead for restraint.

Russia, traditionally Syria's most powerful international champion, added its weight to the escalating pressure.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, telephoned his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem yesterday with a plea for the bloodshed to end.

But the death toll mounted. Some 400 people have been killed since Mr Assad launched a fresh military offensive against opposition strongholds on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the beginning of last week. More than 2,000 have died since the uprising began in mid-March.

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