US: Syria minister is Assad's "shameless tool"

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, right, meets with his Lebanese counterpart Adnan Mansour in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011. AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is holding Syria's foreign minister personally responsible for crimes committed in the Syrian government's five-month crackdown on popular dissent.

Using uncharacteristically undiplomatic language, the State Department said Wednesday that Walid al-Moallem was a "shameless tool and a mouthpiece" of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It said he has played a key role in trying to hide his government's brutality and securing the support of Syria's ally Iran.

The U.S. hit al-Moallem and two other senior Syrian officials Tuesday with sanctions for their part in the repression.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said al-Moallem has helped Syria acquire technical and strategic support from Iran on crowd-suppression techniques and "the kinds of brutal violence that we see."

Nuland said al-Moallem "bears personal responsibility as well for the crimes committed."

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Meanwhile, the crackdown continues as activists say Syrian security forces searching for anti-government protesters are raiding houses in central Syria and making arrests.

The activists say troops backed by tanks and military vehicles have entered districts in Homs and Hama as part of efforts to crush five months of street protests against President Bashar Assad.

Wednesday's raids come a day after security forces killed seven people as thousands of protesters poured out of mosques and marched through cemeteries at the start of Eid al-Fitr, a holiday when pious Muslims traditionally visit graves and pray for the dead.

The three-day holiday, which started on Tuesday, marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

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