Deaths pile up in Hama siege

Scores of people died in and around the restive Syrian city of Hama on Thursday, according to grim reports from activists confirming fears of widespread casualties a day after the start of a new brutal military clampdown targeting protesters.

At least 109 people died in and around Hama, according to Avaaz, a global activist group, citing a medical source. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria said 30 people were killed the day before.

“The brutality continues in Hama on the fourth day of Ramadan. Communication with the city and surrounding area is very difficult as the electricity supply has been cut off,” Avaaz said.

“However, Avaaz has been in touch with a medical source who confirms that 109 people have been killed since the early hours of this morning. Avaaz has been told that scores more have been injured and bodies are lying in the streets as ambulances and private vehicles are unable to get through.”

The western Syrian city has been a cauldron in recent days. It is the center of the anti-government movement roiling the country, and that has prompted a push by security personnel to crack down on the huge demonstrations there and secure the city.

Citing the medical source, Avaaz said the bodies transported to al Hourani hospital had been shot at close range, mostly in the head. The geographic breakdown is 48 dead in the town of Hai al Hadyr, 31 in Janoub al Manaab, and 30 in the northern part of Hama and the Hamidia area.

One resident who spoke to CNN by satellite phone said injured people have passed away in hospitals because the facilities are without electricity.

Residents reported a breakdown and cutoff in communications and electricity accompanying the siege, and said the military was bombing the city.

The resident said entrances of the city are blocked, with no one getting in or out, and snipers are stationed across the city. People who try to leave the city, he said, are being shot.

The man said he was sure that about 10 people are dead and dozens of people are injured.

However, he said, he is hearing reports of dozens of deaths and said he was told there was “genocide” in one particular area. Activists have said many civilians may have died as the military and security forces took hold of the city.

Witnesses said Wednesday that security forces were brazenly advancing into the heart of Hama.

Hama, which has seen massive demonstrations by anti-government protesters, was the site of the 1982 bloody crackdown by the Alawite-dominated government against a Muslim Brotherhood uprising.

Memories of that siege, carried out by late President Hafez al-Assad, the father of President Bashar al-Assad, have reverberated during the nearly five-month uprising, and the ongoing violence in Hama has prompted international anger against the al-Assad regime.

CNN is unable to independently confirm death tolls or events in Syria, which has restricted access to the country by international journalists, including CNN’s.

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday issued a presidential statement condemning the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters and calling for an immediate end to violence by all parties.

But Amnesty International on Thursday cited the Hama siege and slammed the council’s response as “completely inadequate” and “limp” because it failed to take decisive action. The council issued a presidential statement, which carries no enforcement weight.

Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International’s representative to the United Nations, said al-Assad has allowed his security forces to carry out another bloody attack on civilians, with dozens killed in the city of Hama in recent days.

“It’s crucial that a U.N. Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to Syria is able to investigate the situation as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Security Council has also failed to provide support for such a mission,” he said.

He notes that Syrian authorities haven’t permitted a U.N. fact-finding delegation into the country to investigate the situation.

“The U.N. must act now, with a firm and legally binding position. At the very least, its position must include imposing an arms embargo, freezing the assets of President al-Assad and other officials suspected of responsibility for crimes against humanity, and referring the situation to the ICC prosecutor,” he said, in reference to the International Criminal Court.

Two permanent members of the Security Council weighed in on how to proceed in the future.

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned against outside interference and said the country’s citizens should solve their problems themselves, state-run RIA Novosti said.

“The settlement in this country should be carried out by the Syrians themselves without outside interference and should be based on an all-Syria dialogue, which is the only way to resolve the conflict,” the ministry said in a statement.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said earlier Thursday that the Security Council may take a tougher stance on Syria “if nothing changes on the Syrian side.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, also issued an update about Deir Ezzor, a restive city in the country’s northeastern region. It said an opposition leader in the city confirmed a systematic series of government measures to punish residents.

They include not providing salaries to government employees, halting wheat transports to bakeries, preventing hospitals from rescuing injured protesters, and asking governmental medical staff to leave. Pharmacies are closing over fears of detention for giving medications to protesters.

Al-Assad has issued a decree authorizing a multiple-party political system, state media reported Thursday.

A law was earlier passed by Syrian lawmakers, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported, and grants citizens the right to establish political parties with the aim of contributing to political life “through peaceful and democratic means.”

However, the Syrian opposition has argued the decrees are simply for show and will not bring about real change.

That’s because it is questionable whether the move could end decades of single-party Baathist rule without constitutional reform. One of the articles of the Syrian constitution guarantees supremacy for the ruling Baath party.

( / 04.08.2011)

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