Syrian protesters in Deraa hoisting large flag 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
GENEVA - The death toll in Syria may be as high as 850 and thousands of demonstrators have been arrested during a two-month military crackdown, the United Nations human rights office said on Friday.
"We again call on the government to exercise restraint, to cease use of force and mass arrests to silence opponents," Rupert Colville, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news briefing.
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The toll of 700-to-850 dead, based on information provided by human rights activists, was "quite likely to be genuine", he added.
Colville voiced concern about arrest and torture of dissidents in Bahrain, including the death of four detainees while in custody, and announced that Yemen had accepted a visit by a UN human rights mission, suggesting a date of late June.
On Thursday, Syrian forces surrounded Hama
, the scene of a bloody 1982 crackdown by the father of President Bashar Assad, and dispersed a rally in the second city of Aleppo, in the latest signs that the unrest could turn into a drawn-out, bloody revolt.
The Associated Press quoted a human rights activist saying troops backed by tanks had deployed around Hama, a central city in which then-president Hafez Assad killed some 20,000 people in putting down a Muslim Brotherhood insurrection.
In Aleppo, 2,000 students rallied at the city’s prestigious university in the first indication that the rebellion had reached the northern city.
Tanks advanced in the southern towns of Dael, Tafas, Jassem and al-Harra – just a few kilometers east of the Golan Heights – ahead of post-prayer Friday demonstrations that have become hallmarks of the so-called “Arab Spring.”