ICRC Chief Visits Syria As Death Toll Rises

Damascus, Sep 4 :Syrian forces killed 27 people in two days as they quelled anti-regime protests, activists said today as the Red Cross chief arrived for a visit and a punitive EU oil embargo came into effect. The bloodshed came as European ministers warned today of even more sanctions over Damascus’ failure to heed mounting international calls to halt a bloody, months-long crackdown on democracy protests.

Syria’s longtime ally Russia criticised the latest sanctions while the United States, which has been urging moves to isolate President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, welcomed them. Meanwhile Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger arrived today afternoon in Damascus for talks with Assad over access to prisoners and areas affected by the crackdown, said the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Five people were killed today by security forces in the rebellious northwestern province of Idlib and in the central protests hubs of Homs and Hama, a day after anti-regime protests which activists said cost 21 lives. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) said three people were killed and five wounded today in Maarrat “during an incursion by tanks and 50 buses carrying members of the security forces” in Idlib province.

A fourth man was killed today in Deir Baalba neighbourhood of Homs during a raid by security forces, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Another man was shot dead in the evening by security forces manning a checkpoint in the village of Qastun in the province of Hama, said the Observatory. And a political activist who was shot and wounded late yesterday also died today from his injuries, said the LCC.

The Observatory said the Idlib operation aimed at tracking wanted people, as well as Hama’s attorney general, Adnan al-Bakkur, who announced he quit in protest at the repression in a video posted online Wednesday. Syrian authorities said he was kidnapped by an “armed gang” who forced him under pressure to issue “pure lies.” The Observatory also reported that 17 people were arrested today in the town of Al-Hula in Homs province, where power and mobile phones were cut off as military and security reinforcements arrived in the area.

Meanwhile the body of a man “which had visible signs of torture,” was left by the authorities outside his family home in Homs more than a month after he was detained, the Observatory said.

A local dissident said the family refused to take delivery of the body yesterday because “the authorities asked them to sign a report accusing terrorist gangs of killing him.”

More than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since almost daily protests began on March 15, according to the United Nations, while rights groups say more than 10,000 people are behind bars.

In addition to the oil embargo that went into effect today, the EU expanded a list of around 50 people, including Assad, targeted by an assets freeze and travel ban, adding four Syrian businessmen accused of bankrolling the regime. Three firms were also added. (AFP)