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Syria Kills 25 as UN Officials Consider Legality of Crackdown

Syrian security forces killed at least 25 protesters yesterday, activists said, as U.S. President Barack Obama led international calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down as Syria’s leader.

At least 15 people were killed in the central governorate of Homs, eight in the port city of Latakia and the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, and one in each of the provinces of Hama and Idlib, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said today. Protesters held evening rallies in Aleppo, Hama and suburbs of the capital, Damascus, they said.

In Washington, Obama said that “for the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Citing “ferocious brutality” and “the Assad government’s flagrant disrespect for the dignity of the Syrian people,” Obama announced sanctions freezing Syrian assets in the U.S., banning the import of Syrian petroleum products and prohibiting U.S. investment in Syria.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a joint statement calling on Assad “to face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people.” The leaders urged the Syrian government “to stop all violence immediately, to release all prisoners of conscience and to allow free access to the United Nations.”

Human Rights Report

A report today to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council said Syria’s government has engaged in a “pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The Human Rights Council should urge the Security Council to “consider” referring the five-month crackdown in Syria to the International Criminal Court, the report of a fact-finding mission said. The authors said they weren’t allowed to enter Syria and that the government didn’t cooperate with the mission.

The Council-mandated report cited evidence of “disproportionate use of force” against peaceful anti- government protesters, “numerous summary executions,” torture and widespread unlawful arrests.

UN Action

The UN report, amid growing international outrage, may add momentum to a European-led push to overcome Russian resistance to firmer UN action against Assad. Faced with the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year rule, he has deployed tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and helicopters to crush the uprising that began after revolts ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, and sparked a conflict in Libya.

The International Criminal Court, which tries those charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, issued an arrest warrant for Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in June.

Assad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a phone conversation yesterday that military operations against protesters had “stopped,” said Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman.

Syrian forces have killed more than 2,400 people since the unrest began in March, according to Merhi and Qurabi. More than 500 members of the security forces have died during that time, the government has said. The U.S. State Department said more than 30,000 people have been detained, some in cages.

Army Loyalty

“So long as the Syrian army and security forces remain loyal, it will be difficult to topple Assad,” said Patrick Seale, a biographer of Bashar’s late father, former President Hafez al-Assad. “His main asset is that no foreign country has any appetite for a military intervention and the Russians and the Chinese will certainly veto any attempt to condemn him at the UN Security Council.”

Criticism by nations in the region has left Assad increasingly isolated, leaving Iran as his only unwavering ally among them. Obama, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and British Prime Minister David Cameron have called on Syria to stop attacking its people. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Aug. 12 urged nations doing business with Syria to cut off trade and arms sales. Canada is extending sanctions against Assad’s government.

The foreign minister of neighboring Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on Aug. 15 that the “time for words will be over” unless Syria ends military operations against its people.

The Syrian government, which has blocked access to aid workers and journalists, may allow a UN team to enter Syria to assess the humanitarian situation, said the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos.

“We hope that we are very nearly at the point where a mission will be able to go,” she said yesterday in New York.

To contact the reporters on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, at mderhally@bloomberg.net; Flavia Krause-Jackson in New York at fjackson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net; Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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