Syrian Forces Attack Cities Again; At Least 50 Dead as Condemnations Mount

Syrian forces launched raids on the eastern city of Deir al-Zour and the central town of Houla, killing at least 50 people, as Gulf states and the head of the Arab League condemned the violence.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi urged Syrian authorities to immediately end their crackdown to spare the lives of civilians and military personnel, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported today. He also called on President Bashar al-Assad to meet his people’s demands for political change, and said the government should set up a judicial committee to investigate reports of human rights abuses, MENA reported.

The Gulf Cooperation Council yesterday issued a statement that condemned the Syrian government for “excessive use of force, which has caused many deaths and wounded among the Syrian people.” The GCC, comprising Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, called for “an immediate cessation to all acts of violence,” in a statement posted on its website.

The United Nations issued a statement Aug. 3 expressing “grave concern” at the deaths and alleged human rights abuses. Assad, who came to power in 2000, has blamed anti-government protests on foreign-inspired plots, while acknowledging that the demonstrators have some legitimate demands. He issued a decree last week easing curbs on political parties and setting up a commission to regulate parliamentary elections.

Rising Death Toll

Protests against Assad began in March after uprisings toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. About 2,200 protesters have been killed in Syria since then, according to Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights. More than 500 members of the security forces have also been killed, Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told India’s News X channel. Most foreign journalists have been banned since the start of the revolt.

Merhi said 40 people were killed today in Deir al-Zour, 10 in Houla in Homs province and several more in Idlib. He said the witnesses who gave him the information have not provided him with the names of the casualties. Qurabi said in a statement on his website that the death toll from the three places could be at least 68.

Syrian forces are “using tanks, machine guns and armored vehicles as they storm the city,” Merhi said in a telephone interview from Damascus, referring to the assault on Deir al- Zour. “It looks like the regime has ignored the GCC statement because it wants to resolve the crisis militarily.”

Tank Assault

Yesterday, tanks assaulted residential areas in Hama, the country’s fourth-largest city, which has been a center of protests against Assad. One civilian was killed in the shelling, Al Jazeera television said, citing activists. Syrian forces also targeted demonstrators in the Damascus suburb of Al-Muadamiya, in the northern province of Idlib, and in the port city of Latakia, it reported. Troops carried out arrests in several parts of the country, including in Darayya and the outskirts of Damascus, Merhi said.

At least 300 people have been killed in Hama since July 30, according to Al Jazeera. Twenty-nine died Aug. 5 on the first Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, Qurabi said yesterday. The city has drawn the most force from the regime. It was the center of an uprising almost 30 years ago against Assad’s father, Hafez, which was crushed, with a death toll of 10,000, according to Human Rights Watch.

The UN Security Council hasn’t issued the resolution condemning violence in Syria that the U.S. and European allies have sought. U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed two days ago to consider additional steps to pressure the Assad regime and support the Syrian people, according to the White House.

To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Riyadh at dabunasr@bloomberg.net or Eric Engleman in Washington at eengleman1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ann Hughey at ahughey@bloomberg.net; Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net.

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