Death Toll Mounts as Syria Extends Crackdown on Protesters (Bloomberg)

— At least 10 Syrian protesters have died in the past 24 hours as thousands took to the streets nationwide, defying mass arrests amid an intensifying crackdown on dissent that began about two months ago.

The security forces killed four protesters in the central city of Homs yesterday, two in the southern city of Daraa and three in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview today.

Gunfire was heard in the Syrian town of Talkalakh near the Lebanese border today. Tanks are positioned there and the unrest has caused about 500 Syrians to flee across the border to the neighboring country, Qurabi said. At least one person from the town died as a result of their wounds after fleeing to Lebanon, according to Qurabi and Nadim Houry, Lebanon director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Security forces are conducting widespread arrests and house-to-house searches, Qurabi and Mahmoud Merhi of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, who also spoke by phone, said.

Today’s events follow protests yesterday in Hama, Banias, Aleppo and Idlib as thousands took to the streets and joined rallies. In Daraa, people were barred from attending Muslim Friday prayers with “tanks outside every mosque,” according to Qurabi. Gunfire was heard in Barzeh, the port city of Latakia and in Madaya, near the border with Lebanon, he said.

Emergency Law

Syria’s suppression of pro-democracy protests began mid- March after popular revolts ousted leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. The uprising drew initial pledges of reform from President Bashar al-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 stepped up their assaults.

More than 800 demonstrators have been killed since the uprising began, according to Qurabi and Merhi, who have compiled a list of the names of victims. As many as 10,000 people have been detained, according to their estimates. Most foreign journalists have been banned from Syria and the government has restricted media access.

The army and security authorities say they are pursuing “terrorist elements” and have aired footage on state TV of what they said were confiscated arms and ammunition, as well as confessions of alleged members of terrorist or extremist groups.

‘National Dialogue’

The Interior Ministry said 6,131 people “involved in riot acts” have surrendered under an amnesty that expires tomorrow, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported today.

Syria will hold a “national dialogue” in the coming days, and army units have started a gradual withdrawal from Banias, Information Minister Adnan Hassan Mahmoud told a press conference yesterday.

“There is no point in having a dialogue without the release of all political prisoners, stopping the arbitrary arrests,” Louay Hussein, a writer and activist, said in a telephone interview today.

The European Union has imposed sanctions including a visa ban and an asset freeze on 13 Syrian officials and relatives of Assad. The U.S. has applied sanctions against Syrian officials.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been in contact with the Syrian government “seeking their full cooperation” with… Read more @ Bloomberg

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