Death Toll Mounts in Syria as Army Deploys Tanks Against Demonstrators

Syria’s government deployed tanks against demonstrators, boosting the death toll after almost two months of unrest, according to Syrian human-rights activists.

At least 24 protesters have been killed in the last two days, including 13 who died when the village of Hara outside the southern city of Daraa was shelled, Mahmoud Merhi of the Arab Organization for Human Rights said by phone from Syria today. At least six people died in an assault on the city of Homs yesterday and five in Jassem the past two days, said Merhi and Ammar Qurabi, the head of the National Organization for Human Rights. Two soldiers were killed, Merhi said.

Security forces also forcefully dispersed about 2,000 people who had gathered at a demonstration at the residential compound of a university in the city of Aleppo, Merhi said, adding that protesters were beaten with clubs.

The Bab Amro neighborhood of Homs, which tanks began shelling yesterday morning, remains closed, a resident of the city said in an interview today. Electricity, water and telecommunications in the neighborhood have been cut, he said. Buildings were destroyed in the shelling and the number of people killed may be much higher than what has been reported, he said, adding that people are calling for protests tomorrow.

Homes Searched

Yesterday’s operations followed attacks the previous day on demonstrators in the capital, Damascus, and flash-point cities including Daraa, where the uprising began in mid-March. The continuing suppression of protests in Syria and Yemen comes after revolts against longtime leaders in Egypt and Tunisia helped spread unrest through the Middle East.

House-to-house searches and a “large number” of arrests that began two days ago have continued in the Damascus district of al-Muadamiya, which was encircled on May 9, Qurabi said. A curfew is in effect and people have been barred from prayer at the mosques, he said.

The army has said it is pursuing “terrorist elements” in the suburbs of Homs, where it arrested “dozens” of wanted people and confiscated arms and ammunition, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. The government said on May 5 the army had begun a gradual retreat from Daraa, where the protests began in mid-March, after completing its mission by arresting “terrorist elements and restoring security and calm.”

Hundreds Killed

More than 750 demonstrators have been killed since the uprising began, according to Qurabi and Merhi, who have compiled lists of the names of victims. The number of dead probably grew after yesterday’s shelling and in light of the large number of people the two men say are missing. As many as 10,000 have been detained in the past two months, Qurabi has said.

Tanks were headed toward the city of Hama, near Homs, Merhi said yesterday. Hama was the site of an Islamist-led uprising in 1982 that was crushed by President Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, leaving 10,000 people dead. About 100 tanks are positioned along the 45-kilometer (28-mile) road between Homs and Hama, Qurabi said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Assad can’t deny his people’s “indispensable requests for peace and democracy.” Assad should take immediate democratic steps as the momentum toward democracy in the Middle East is “irreversible,” Erdogan said in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose in Ankara aired today.

EU Sanctions

The Syrian uprising drew initial pledges of reform from Assad, who lifted an emergency law in place since 1963 and named a new government. He hasn’t repeated the assurances in recent weeks as security forces have stepped up their attacks.

The Interior Ministry said 3,308 people “involved in riot acts” have surrendered following a government announcement that those who turned themselves in between May 2 and May 15 would be exempt from prosecution and punishment, SANA reported today. It said they were released after they vowed not to repeat any act that harms the security of the state or its citizens.

Germany warned Syria yesterday that the European Union will implement additional sanctions that could directly affect Assad unless his government “immediately and discernibly stops its aggression.” The EU this week imposed sanctions that include a visa ban and an asset freeze against 13 Syrian officials and relatives of the president.

The U.S. has also applied sanctions on Syrian officials. Syria, under pressure for its suppression of protesters, yesterday withdrew its bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Most foreign journalists have been banned from Syria and the government has restricted media access to protest flash points and made it more difficult to get visas.

Al Jazeera said yesterday that its reporter, Dorothy Parvaz, who went missing after arriving in Damascus on April 29, has been deported to Iran. Al Jazeera said it has had no contact with Parvaz, 39, a U.S., Canadian and Iranian citizen, since she left Qatar 13 days ago.

To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, at mderhally@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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