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Syria Death Toll Exceeds 1,500 Amid New Army Assault

Syrian security forces have killed 1,504 people since the start of anti-government demonstrations in mid-March, said Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

The death toll increased in the past day as tanks and helicopters pressed on with an assault on the village of Rameh in the northern province of Idlib, killing at least four people, Qurabi said in a telephone interview.

Hundreds of people have also been detained in the Damascus suburbs of Barzeh, Harasta and Kaswa, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone today from the capital. Arrests also took place in the southern area of Daraa, where the unrest began in March, he said.

The unrest continued even as about 200 Syrian intellectuals and academics who are critics of President Bashar al-Assad’s government met this week at a conference in Damascus. Some activists say the event was intended to set the stage for a dialogue, and most argue that it won’t work without tangible policy changes by the government.

“The situation is no longer about people’s demands, it’s about implementing change on the ground and moving beyond the stage of asking the government to act,” Qurabi said, adding: “I expect military operations to continue.”

National Dialogue

At least 20,000 people have been detained since the start of the unrest, and half of them remain in detention, according to Qurabi.

A national dialogue committee formed by the government has set July 10 as the date for convening a consultative meeting, which intellectuals and political and national personalities are invited to attend, the official SANA news agency reported this week.

Thousands of Syrians have fled across the border to Turkey to escape violence in northern towns, straining relations between the countries. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkish camps has swelled to 11,739, Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency said June 24.

Assad blamed the protests on a foreign conspiracy last week. U.S.-backed efforts to get the United Nations Security Council to condemn Assad and order a halt to attacks have foundered amid opposition from Russia, China, Brazil and India.

U.S. Sanctions

The U.S. Treasury Department said it had sanctioned Syrian and Iranian security forces for involvement in the Syrian crackdown.

The sanctions designate “one of the four major branches of Syria’s security forces, the Syrian Political Security Directorate, for engaging in the commission of human rights abuses in Syria, as well as Iran’s national police for providing support to the Syrian regime. The chief and deputy chief of Iran’s national police and the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence were also sanctioned today,” according to a Treasury Department statement issued by e-mail in Washington.

Russia called for an end to violence in Syria yesterday and said it will remain a friend of the Syrian people regardless of who is in power in the Middle Eastern country.

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