Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees

Hollywood actress and UN envoy Angelina Jolie travelled to Turkey's border with Syria on Friday to meet some of the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled their government's bloody crackdown on dissent.

EU prepares new Syrian sanctions

Hollywood actress and UN envoy Angelina Jolie travelled to Turkey's border with Syria on Friday to meet some of the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled their government's bloody crackdown on dissent.

The goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees arrived in the Turkish province of Hatay on a private jet with boxes of toys for the refugee camps, where 10,000 Syrians are now living. 

DHA television showed Jolie disembarking from the plane in sunglasses, as police tried to keep fans and photographers away. The actress rested at Hatay airport and then headed to a camp in the Turkish town of Altinozu, Turkish media reported. Turkish authorities hoisted a 15-metre banner near the entrance of a refugee camp to welcome Jolie. It read: "Goodness Angel of the World, Welcome" in English and Turkish.

One fan held a poster that read: "Angelina, kiss me for world peace."

Meanwhile, activists say Syrian security forces have shot dead eight people, including a 16-year-old boy, during anti-government protests.

Media access to camps restricted

CBC reporter Carolyn Dunn is on the Turkish side of the border with Syria, where she says there are four refugee camps holding between 8,000 to 10,000 people who have fled violence.

"We are not being given access to any of these camps," said Dunn, "which is becoming a real frustration for the media, but also a source of controversy for human rights groups.

"Amnesty International, for example, is accusing the Turkish government of helping to hide the atrocities done by the Syrian government, just by limiting access to these victims who have fled."

Dunn said Jolie's visit will undoubtedly bring attention to the situation.

Reporter's notebook: Read more of Dunn's report of life at the camps.

In April, Jolie travelled to Tunisia, bringing attention to the region during its refugee crisis as thousands fled from its war-torn neighbor, Libya.

The toll was reported Friday by the Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents the protests, and by rights activist Mustafa Osso.

Three 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. The 16-year-old died in the southern village of Dael.

Thousands of people poured into the streets throughout Syria after Friday prayers calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad's regime.   

Assad has unleashed the military to crush street demonstrations that erupted in mid-March. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained.

The European Union is preparing new, expanded sanctions against Syria that would target companies, says a French official, as Syrian troops swept into another town.

Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso said large numbers of soldiers entered the city, though it was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties in the operation.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said "talks are under way" for new sanctions against "economic entities."

He spoke Friday at a news conference in Paris. A senior EU official confirmed that such discussions are under way ahead of an EU foreign ministers meeting early next week — notably on how many businesses to target.

Many of the residents of Maaret al-Numan, a town of 100,000 on the highway linking Damascus with Syria's largest city, Aleppo, have fled after Syrian forces swept through the northwestern province of Idlib last week near the Turkish border.

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Omar Idilbi of the Local Co-ordination Committees, a group that documents anti-government protests, said troops are in full control of the town.

Since anti-government protests erupted in mid-March, inspired by democratic revolutions in autocrat-ruled Tunisia and Egypt, Assad has unleashed the military in region after region to crush street demonstrations. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 have been detained.

The operation in Maaret al-Numan coincided with opposition calls for protests Friday throughout the country naming it "The Day of Saleh al-Ali." Al-Ali was an Alawite leader who led an uprising against French colonial rule in the 20th century.

The opposition has been giving a name for every Friday since the uprising began 13 weeks ago but using the name of an Alawite leader was designed to show Assad's opponents were not rising up over secular concerns. 

The Assad regime is dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam, but the country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. 

Alawite dominance has bred resentment, which Assad has worked to tamp down by pushing a strictly secular identity in Syria. But the president now appears to be relying heavily on his Alawite power base, beginning with highly placed Assad relatives, to crush the resistance.

Osso, the rights activists, said troops are now massing around the town of Khan Sheikhon, south of Maaret al-Numan. Earlier this month, any army forces were attacked by gunmen in the area. Two government tanks were damaged in the melee, the activists said.

A Syrian military official was quoted by SANA, the state-run news agency, as saying the army deployed near Maaret al-Numan and Khan Sheikhon to prevent "armed terrorist organizations" from cutting the highway.

Syrian tanks and the government's most loyal troops have been trying to prevent the uprising from gaining a territorial base for a wider armed rebellion against Assad.

Some 9,000 Syrians have already sought refuge in camps in neighbouring Turkey during the latest military crackdown, which authorities said was necessary to rid the area of "armed terrorists." The government blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, saying religious extremists are behind it — not true reformers.