Syria Forces Kill 25 Protesters as Opposition Tries to Unite

Syrian security forces have killed at least 25 protesters in the past two days as activists and opposition groups prepare for a conference aimed at presenting a united front against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

At least 13 anti-government demonstrators were shot dead yesterday in the central city of Homs, the eastern town of Deir al-Zour and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone. At least 12 people were killed on Aug. 23 across the Hama governorate, Homs and the northern province of Idlib, he said.

Factions of a largely fragmented opposition aim to gather as many as 300 members when the conference is held in about two weeks, Merhi said, adding it’s unclear who is organizing the event. Some opposition members said this week they have formed a National Council to coordinate their activities. One faction, the Antalya Group, said it wouldn’t participate.

The latest developments come as the U.S., Britain and France seek to freeze Assad’s assets and impose an arms embargo on Syria. The three countries circulated a draft resolution to United Nations Security Council members that would freeze the foreign assets of Assad, his brother Maher, who commands a Syrian army division, and 21 other senior government officials.

Residents of Deir al-Zour and areas near the port city of Latakia heard gunfire today, Merhi said. The state-run SANA news agency said eight soldiers were killed in two attacks today by “armed terrorist groups” in Homs.

‘More Intense’

Assad has used tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and helicopters to crush the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year rule. The uprising began five months ago after revolts ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and sparked conflict in Libya.

“Tomorrow may be more intense than previous Fridays as it’s the last day of Ramadan,” Merhi said, referring to the Muslim fasting month that began on Aug. 1. Friday, the holiest day of the week for Muslims, has galvanized thousands to protest midday after prayers. At least 1 million people took to the streets on several Fridays in the last six weeks.

Ali Farzat, a satirical cartoonist who has published work critical of the government, was attacked and beaten early today, Merhi said. A fan page on Facebook said four people stopped Farzat and put him in a bag, targeting his hands as they beat him and threatening to kill him if he ever drew again before throwing him on a road leading to Damascus airport.

Turkish Fatality

Several pictures of Farzat lying in a hospital bed with his right forehead and both hands bandaged were uploaded to Facebook. Farzat’s work is published in Syria, other Arab countries and in France’s Le Monde.

Turkey’s ambassador to Syria traveled to a suburb of Damascus to retrieve the body of a Turkish national killed by security forces, Al Arabiya television said, citing activists.

The UN Human Rights Council on Aug. 23 ordered an investigation into the crackdown on protesters, including possible crimes against humanity.

At least 2,400 people have been killed since the protests started, according to Merhi and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The UN puts the death toll at more than 2,200. At least 500 members of the security forces have died, the government has said.

Assad, who succeeded his father as president after his death in 2000, has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots. In an interview on state television from Damascus on Aug. 21, he rejected U.S. and European demands to step down and pledged to schedule parliamentary elections by February and review the constitution.

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