Harrowing eyewitness testimonies mounted yesterday after Syrian forces backed by helicopter gunships killed at least 25 protesters, prompting the US to toughen its stance on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
As the turmoil approached the three-month mark, the international outcry grew over Assad’s use of deadly force against his own people, with protests planned yesterday in more than a dozen world cities including Montreal, New York and Paris.
Fridays have become a rallying point in the revolt against Assad’s regime, which has responded with deadly force to pro-democracy protests that erupted in mid-March, leading to the deaths of more than 1,200 civilians, rights groups say.
The death toll mounted as detailed accounts began to emerge from some of the thousands of refugees who fled to Turkey from bloodshed in the latest flashpoint, in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that helicopters flying over the town of Maaret al-Numan, near Jisr al--Shughur, had fired on a police station which protesters had seized.
State television said the -operation in Jisr al-Shughur had come “at the request of residents” to deal with “armed gangs.” Soldiers had arrested “elements of the armed groups” there, it said.
However, one villager reported that advancing troops had bombarded the surrounding villages and torched wheat fields in the village of al-Ziyara, 15km southeast of Jisr al-Shughur.
Rights activists say the town is largely deserted after most of its 50,000 inhabitants fled, many to neighboring Turkey, as tanks and troops began converging there midweek.
The turmoil has pushed 4,300 Syrians to seek refuge across the border in Turkey, Anatolia news agency reported.
The White House significantly toughened its stance on Syria on Friday, calling for an “immediate end to brutality and violence” and warning Assad was leading his nation on a “dangerous path.”
“The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government’s outrageous use of violence across Syria today and particularly in the northwestern region,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “There must be an immediate end to the brutality and violence.”
The statement contained a clear sign of growing US impatience over Syria after top officials have- repeatedly called for Assad to embrace reform or step aside — but stopped short of demanding his departure.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a personal friend of Assad, on Friday denounced Syria in Ankara’s harshest reaction yet to the unrest.
“Unfortunately they do not behave humanely,” Erdogan said in a television interview.
The crackdown was “unacceptable” and would “necessarily” lead the UN Security Council to step in, he added.
Human Rights Watch said yesterday that the Security Council should support a resolution demanding an immediate end to the crackdown.
“The Security Council’s complete silence in the face of mass atrocities against the people of Syria is emboldening the Syrian government in its bloody crackdown,” said Philippe Bolopion, UN director at the New York-based rights watchdog.
“A veto by Russia and China to protect the Syrian government and block efforts to stop the killings would be a serious betrayal of Syria’s beleaguered citizens,” he said in a statement.