Security forces killed at least 15 people and arrested more than 200 in Syria, activists said, as Human Rights Watch yesterday denounced a “deliberate policy” to disperse protesters with deadly force.
The deaths came as Damascus accused a US envoy of inciting violence in Hama — where nearly half a million people protested on Friday — a charge roundly denied by Washington which accused the Syrian embassy of spying on demonstrators in the US.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces had also arrested more than 200 people around the country on Friday, more than half of them in Homs.
The London-based watchdog’s director Rami Abdel Rahman said a record 450,000 Syrians rallied after Friday prayers in Hama, an opposition bastion, under the banner “No to dialogue” with Assad’s regime and called for its ouster.
Both US envoy Robert Ford and French ambassador Eric Chevallier visited the city on Thursday.
Damascus accused Ford of meeting with “saboteurs” there and of inciting people to violence, but the US State Department said the ambassador had done no such thing and had gone as an international observer with the regime’s knowledge.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry called Ford’s presence in Hama “obvious proof of the implication of the United States in the ongoing events, and of their attempts to increase [tensions], which damage Syria’s security and stability.”
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she was “dismayed” by such criticism and stressed that Syrian authorities knew of the visit in advance.
She also took issue with government claims that armed gangs are the problem in Hama — where activists say regime forces have killed 25 people since Tuesday — stressing that Ford “saw no evidence of this.”
Washington summoned the Syrian ambassador for talks after reports that embassy staff had filmed US protests against the crackdown in Syria, the US Department of State said on Friday.
Imad Mustapha was called in to meet with top State Department officials “to express a number of our concerns with the reported actions of certain Syrian embassy staff in the United States. We received reports that Syrian mission personnel under ambassador Mustapha’s authority have been conducting video and photographic surveillance of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in the United States.”
Rights groups say that security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians and arrested at least 12,000 since anti-government protests erupted in mid-March.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a damning criticism of Syrian security forces for firing on unarmed civilians and for beating detainees, based on testimony from alleged defectors.
“All of the interviewed defectors told Human Rights Watch that their superiors had told them that they were fighting infiltrators [mundaseen], salafists and terrorists,” a statement said.
“The defectors said they were surprised to encounter unarmed protesters instead, but were still ordered to fire on them in a number of instances. The defectors also reported that those who refused orders to shoot on protesters ran the risk of being shot themselves,” it said.
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