'Civilian killings in Syrian demonstrations rise to 800'

Syrian rights group says 220 among those dead were killed in tank attack on Deraa; Clinton: "Assad must respond to the people’s call for change."

By JPOST.COM, REUTERS
May 7, 2011 14:04
4 minute read.
Protestors in Syria

Protestors in Syria 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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AMMAN - Syrian security forces have shot dead at least 800 civilians since pro-democracy protests erupted seven weeks ago, Syrian rights groups Sawasiah said on Saturday.

The organization, which was founded by jailed human rights lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani, said in a statement sent to Reuters it had the names of the 800 civilians killed. Among them were 220 killed in a tank-backed army attack on the city of Deraa.

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Following renewed protests on Friday,
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Syrian President Bashar Assad's government must address the demands of the people.

“The Syrian government must respond to the Syrian people’s call for change,” Clinton said in a statement. “It must realize that violence and intimidation will not answer their call.”

Clinton's comments come as Syrian army units stormed into the city of Banias with tanks overnight, attacking Sunni districts that had defied Assad's autocratic rule, a human rights campaigner said on Saturday.

The units entered the coastal city, a majority of whose residents are Sunni Muslims, from three directions, advancing into Sunni districts but not Alawite neighborhoods, said the campaigner. Most communications with Banias have been cut but the campaigner was able to contact some residents, he said.


Reacting to the killing of 30 protesters by Syrian security forces earlier Friday, the United States threatened to take new steps against the Assad's regime unless it stopped killing and harassing its people.

Rights campaigners said the dead were among thousands of protesters who demonstrated after Friday prayers in cities across the country, from Banias on the Mediterranean coast to Qamishly in the Kurdish east.

The European Union agreed to impose sanctions in response to Assad's violent crackdown on protesters, which rights campaigners say has killed more than 580 people.



"The United States believes that Syria's deplorable actions toward its people warrant a strong international response," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

"Absent significant change in the Syrian government's current approach, including an end to the government's killing of protesters ... the United States and its international partners will take additional steps to make clear our strong opposition to the Syrian government's treatment of its people."

The United States imposed sanctions of its own last week against some figures in the Syrian government.

Friday's bloodiest confrontation was in the city of Homs where 15 protesters were killed, activist Ammar Qurabi said.

State television said an army officer and four police were killed in Homs by a "criminal gang", though another activist, Wissam Tarif, said witnesses told him nine soldiers defected in Homs to the protesters and may have clashed with other troops.

Four protesters were killed in Deir al-Zor, said a local tribal leader from the region which produces most of Syria's 380,000 barrels per day of oil. They were the first deaths reported there in seven weeks of nationwide unrest.

International criticism has mounted against Assad, who has gone on the offensive to maintain his family's four-decade grip on power in the country of 20 million and crush demonstrators demanding freedom.

European Union governments agreed on Friday to impose asset freezes and travel restrictions on up to 14 Syrian officials responsible for the violent repression.

Officials blame "armed terrorist groups" for the violence, give a lower death toll and say half the fatalities have been soldiers and police. They say demonstrators are few in number and do not represent the majority of Syrians.

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Assad himself was not targeted by the sanctions, which follow last week's EU agreement in principle to impose an arms embargo on Syria. The measures will be approved on Monday if no member state objects.

Assad's security forces and troops, which stormed the city of Deraa last week, have prevented demonstrators establishing a platform such as Egypt's Tahrir Square by blocking access to the capital Damascus. But every week protesters have used Friday prayers to launch fresh marches.

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