More than 50 killed as Assad defends Syria crackdown



DAMASCUS- Syrian security forces killed more than 50 people on Sunday, activists said, as the regime defended its crackdown on "outlaws" and Pope Benedict XVI and the Arab League condemned the violence.
The US envoy to Damascus, Robert Ford, who returned to Syria on Thursday, also said in a US television interview on Sunday that Washington will "try to ratchet up the pressure" on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.



The latest bloodshed came as the pope said he was "following with deep concern the dramatic and increasing episodes of violence in Syria that have led to numerous victims and grave suffering."
Ford, who infuriated the Syrian authorities with a visit to the flashpoint protest city of Hama last month, also told ABC news that the violence against protesters was "grotesque" and "abhorrent."
Activists said security forces backed by tanks killed 42 civilians in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and at least 10 more in the central town of Hula on Sunday.
"Forty-two civilians have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Deir Ezzor by gunfire from the armed forces and security agents," Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights head Abdel Karim Rihawi told AFP.
Rihawi said that 28 people were killed in Deir Ezzor's Al-Jura neighbourhood and 14 died in Huweika, adding that thousands also fled the city.
In Hula in Homs district, at least 10 people were killed in a military assault, Rihawi said.
"About 25 tanks and troop carriers entered Hula and carried out military operations," another activist, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said earlier.
The Observatory also reported two civilians shot dead in Idlib in the northwest by security forces firing on mourners at a funeral.
Abdel Rahman said hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Syria's second city Aleppo in the north late on Sunday, demanding the fall of the regime and proclaiming solidarity with Deir Ezzor and Hama.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organised the protests, said on Facebook that snipers on rooftops in Deir Ezzor "are firing on anything that moves," and also gave a toll of 42 dead.
Assad roundly defended his security forces, however.
"To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians," state news agency SANA quoted him as saying.
SANA also quoted an official military source as dismissing claims that the army was shelling Deir Ezzor with tanks as "completely false and untrue."
The pope called for an adequate response to the "legitimate aspirations" of the Syrian people, while Ford told ABC he would continue travelling across Syria to observe the crackdown first-hand.
"I don't particularly care (about angering Damascus), because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protesters," he said.
"I'd do it again tomorrow if I have to. I'm going to keep moving around the country. I can't stop."
"We are going to try to ratchet up the pressure."
The Arab League also made its first official statement on the unrest, calling on Damascus to "immediately" stop the violence that has raged since mid-March.
Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi also urged an "impartial probe" into the bloodshed, warning against "chaos" and "religious strife" in Syria, it said.
Arabi expressed his "increasing concern" because of "the deterioration of the security situation in Syria following the rise in violence and military operations in Hama, Deir Ezzor" and elsewhere.
On Saturday UN chief Ban Ki-moon phoned Assad to express similar concerns, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban "reflected to the Syrian president the clear message sent by the (UN) Security Council and urged the president to stop the use of military force against civilians immediately."
US and European leaders have pledged to consider new steps to punish Syria after security forces killed more than 30 people on the first Friday of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.
Syria's government has sought to crush the democracy movement with force, leaving at least 2,059 people dead, including 391 members of the security forces, according to the Syrian Observatory.
The Assad regime has pledged reform and accused "armed terrorist gangs" of fomenting the unrest.
On Saturday Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said "free and transparent" parliamentary elections would be held by the end of 2011 and that the regime was committed to reform announced by Assad.
Two days earlier Assad issued a decree allowing opposition political parties, and in April ordered an end to five decades of draconian emergency rule and abolished the feared state security courts.
In June he said talks could lead to a new constitution and end his Baath party's monopoly on power, concessions largely dismissed by the opposition as a ploy to deflect world condemnation.
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Monday, August 8th 2011
AFP
           


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