Fighting in Syria kills 40 near Jordan border-activists

AMMAN Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:13pm EST

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AMMAN (Reuters) - At least 40 Syrians were killed in fighting on Monday between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and insurgents in a town near the border with Jordan, local activists said, in the first case of major armed resistance to Assad in the region.

They said troops backed by armor killed 20 people -- army defectors, insurgents and civilians -- in an assault on Khirbet Ghazaleh in the Hauran Plain, and in fighting that ensued near the town. A similar number of troops were killed, they added.

The troops attacked Khirbet Ghazaleh, 20 km (12 miles) north of the border, on the main highway between Amman and Damascus, after army defectors attacked a security police bus at a highway intersection near the town, the activists said.

"Members of the (defectors') brigade fought back when the army attacked and Bedouin from nearby villages also rushed to help Khirbet Ghazaleh," said one of the activists, who gave his name as Abu Hussein.

The Hauran Plain, an area of flat farmland that also borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, was the first outlying area to erupt in street protests against Assad's autocratic rule at the start of the uprising in March. Tanks and troops have been deployed across the region to crush the revolt since then.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Suleiman al-Khalidi, Amman newsroom; editing by Tim Pearce)

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