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Deaths mount in Syrian town; security crackdown under fire

By the CNN Wire Staff
Syria's brutal crackdown on anti-government protests has sparked demonstrations around the world, as seen here in Turkey.
Syria's brutal crackdown on anti-government protests has sparked demonstrations around the world, as seen here in Turkey.
  • NEW: U.S. imposes sanctions on Bashar al-Assad
  • The killings occurred in Tal Kalakh
  • The president met with elders in Damascus
  • Al-Assad didn't elaborate on what the practices were
  • Hundreds of people have died in Syria since mid-March

(CNN) -- Nearly three dozen people have been killed in a restive Syrian town along the Lebanese border as international pressure builds on Syria to end its ferocious clampdown on peaceful protests.

The Syrian Human Rights Information Network said up to 35 people have been killed in Tal Kalakh since the military crackdown began there on April 29. Eight of the victims died Wednesday.

Witnesses have seen Syrian shelling there and injured people have sought treatment in Lebanese hospitals. The violence has also spurred some Syrians to flee across the border to Lebanon.

One Tal Kalakh resident told CNN about shelling on Wednesday and reported seeing dead and wounded people.

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He said that the army retreated from Tal Kalakh, but there were about 10 buses carrying thugs who entered the town on Wednesday. Only a few families are left in Tal Kalakh, he said.

Thousands of people have been arrested since mid-March. Last week, the United Nations said deaths during the protests could number as many as 850.

The crackdown has drawn widespread criticism within and outside of Syria.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday imposed tough sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad and six other senior Syrian officials in an effort to stop the regime's fierce crackdown on protests, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

The Treasury Department also targeted two top Iranian officials whose unit was a "conduit for Iranian material support" to Syrian intelligence.

This comes on the same day a Syrian newspaper reported the president's acknowledgment that security forces have made mistakes during the last two months of turmoil across the embattled country.

Al-Watan reported that al-Assad made the remark during a meeting with a "delegation of elders" from Damascus.

Omar Al Serwan, one of the elders, said al-Assad "revealed that some of the wrong security practices came as a result of lack of knowledge on the part of the security forces on how to handle such situations," according to Al-Watan.

However, he didn't specify what the mistakes involved.

Al-Assad said police try to avoid problems through training "so they may do the right thing and prevent such abuses," the paper said, citing Al Serwan.

Al Serwan said other aspects of the meeting were "positive and transparent." They dealt with "corruption, the judiciary, economy, trade, and education."

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Nada Husseini and Arwa Damon contributed to this report

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