Middle East

At least 24 Syrians dead, hunt for attorney general continues

DAMASCUS/AMMAN: At least 24 people were killed in violence across Syria Sunday, reports said as the visiting Red Cross chief sought access to those detained in more than five months of anti-regime protests.

As more bloodletting gripped the country, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said Syria has agreed to host him for a visit, to help push for a peaceful outcome to the crisis.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the five-nation BRICS group of emerging powers, who have criticized Western sanctions on Syria, are determined not to allow a Libyan-style solution in that country.

Activists said security forces cracking down on democracy protesters killed 12 people Sunday during operations in northwestern and central Syria, including a woman.

The state news agency SANA also gave a toll of 12 dead – including six troops – when an “armed terrorist group” ambushed a bus in central Syria. SANA quoted a military source saying six troops, including an officer, and three civilians were killed when gunmen fired on a bus “carrying soldiers and laborers going to work.”

SANA also reported that three assailants were also killed in a shootout with troops, while 17 people were wounded in the attack.

Omar Idlibi, spokesman of the Local Coordination Committees which groups anti-regime activists on the ground, said “four martyrs fell in Karnaz near the town of Maharda.”

At least eight civilian deaths were reported by activists in rural Hama and the adjacent province of Idlib, both areas that have seen intensified raids and arrests of people involved in popular unrest since last week’s defection of Hama’s attorney general.

Activists said the authorities suspected Judge Adnan Mohammad Bakkour was in hiding in the countryside around Hama.

Activists reported two people were killed near the town of Maaret al-Numan in the northern province of Idlib Saturday during an operation to root out Bakkour.

Last week, Bakkour appeared to resign from his position in protest via a statement broadcast via YouTube in which he said security forces had killed 72 jailed protesters and activists at Hama’s central prison on the eve of a military assault on the city on July 31. He said at least another 420 people were killed in the operation and were buried in public parks.

State news agencies dismissed Bakkour’s allegations as “false fabrications,” saying they were made under duress at the hands of armed opponents of the regime who had kidnapped Bakkour.

A local activist said hundreds of security men were conducting house-to-house searches in villages around Bakkour’s hometown of Kfar Banouza and arresting scores of people.

Idlibi said two people were killed in the town of Khan Sheikhwan. On Friday, SANA reported that gunmen in Khan Sheikhwan had kidnapped a corporal with Syria’s internal security services, Wael Ali.

According to the LCC, security forces backed by soldiers raided Khan Sheikhwan and encircled hospitals “to prevent the wounded from being brought in for treatment.”

The protest hub of Homs also witnessed violence Sunday as 15 people were wounded when troops and security forces raked gunfire in the central city as part of an operation launched Saturday night, the Observatory said.

The unrest came as International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger met Foreign Minister Walid Moallem for a briefing on Syria’s efforts to “restore order” and introduce reforms, blaming “armed groups” for the unrest, SANA said.

Kellenberger’s office had said he was expected to meet President Bashar Assad to discuss access to prisoners and areas of unrest. The ICRC chief arrived Saturday and was due to leave Monday afternoon.

His office said that during a previous visit in June “an understanding was reached” for “enhanced access to areas of unrest, and negotiations would take place concerning ICRC visits to detainees.”

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

Meanwhile the Arab League secretary general Arabi said Syrian authorities now agreed to a visit, which he had announced a week ago after the 22-member group had met to discuss the Syrian crisis.

“I will express Arab concerns and I will listen,” Arabi said.

Arab foreign ministers had urged Syria “to follow the way of reason before it is too late” and halt the violence – drawing rebuke from Damascus. 

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2011, on page 1.

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