Syrian troops kill 7 after UN team visit

August 23, 2011 - 6:25 AM
Syria Assad

In this image from a Syrian state television interview broadcast Sunday Aug 21 2011, President Bashar Assad says his security forces are making gains against a 5-month-old uprising and says his government is in no danger of falling. He repeated plans to introduce reforms to Syria, one of the most authoritarian states in the Middle East. He said a committee to study reforms would need at least six months to work. He said the situation in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces killed at least seven people in a flashpoint central city following a visit by members of a U.N. humanitarian team, activists said Tuesday.

The United Nation's top human rights body, meanwhile, voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to demand that Syria end its bloody crackdown and cooperate with an international probe into possible crimes against humanity.

The U.N. has said the overall death toll from President Bashar Assad's crackdown on dissent has reached 2,200.

Seven people died on Monday, four of them when troops opened fire to disperse anti-government protesters in Homs. The protesters had gathered in the city's main square ahead of a the arrival of a U.N. humanitarian team.

Amateur videos posted by activists online showed crowds of people thronging several cars with the blue U.N. flag, flashing banners that read: "SOS" and "We will never stop until we get our freedom."

The protesters chanted for freedom and the downfall of the regime.

Syria granted a U.N. team permission to visit some of the centers of the protests and crackdown to assess humanitarian needs, but activists and a Western diplomat have accused the regime of trying to scrub away signs of the crackdown.

Residents and activists said it was quiet until the team left, after which troops opened fire to disperse the protest, killing four people. Three more were killed by gunmen elsewhere in Homs, which has become a hotbed of dissent against Assad.

In New York, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq later told reporters that "a protest situation developed" in Homs, adding the mission was advised to leave for security reasons.

"The mission did not come under fire," he said.

The Local Coordination Committees and the London-based Observatory for Human Rights also reported that security forces stormed several villages in the southern and northern parts of the country, arresting scores on Tuesday.

Assad, who has tried in vain to crush the 5-month-old revolt, appears increasingly out of touch as he refuses to acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of people demanding his ouster, analysts say. Instead, he blames the unrest on Islamic extremists and thugs.

In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted 33-4 on Tuesday to condemn the violence by Syrian authorities and to dispatch a human rights team to probe alleged atrocities since March.

The remaining countries on the 47-nation council abstained or were absent. China and Russia said they opposed the measure as unnecessary intervention. Syrian Ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi called the move "100 percent political."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday criticized Assad for failing to halt a military crackdown on dissent despite a pledge he made to him by phone on Wednesday that all military and security operations would end.

"It is troubling that he has not kept his word," the U.N. chief told reporters in New York.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay demanded Syria immediately halt its crackdown and told members of the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva that "the scale and nature of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity."

She said some 2,200 people have died as a result of the government crackdown, with 350 reportedly killed since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early August.