Syria’s security forces are pressing a deadly town-by-town crushing of dissent and mass round-up of opposition leaders, rights activists said, as Washington slammed the “barbaric” repression while Beijing called on the world not to intefere.
Thousands of students defied the crackdown to stage a protest in Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo, late on Wednesday before being dispersed by baton-wielding loyalists and security force personnel, a rights activist said.
At least 19 civilians were killed on Wednesday as troops and unknown gunmen assaulted protest hubs across the country, shelling and firing on some and encircling others with tanks, according to accounts by human rights activists.
Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy, said Ammar Qurab, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
Sniper fire killed 13 people, including the youngster, in the village of al-Harra, near the protest center of Daraa, south of Damascus, Qurabi said.
Tank fire killed five people in the Baba Amr District on the outskirts of the central industrial city of Homs. Another civilian died in Jassem, near Daraa, he said.
Two soldiers were killed and five wounded in clashes with “armed terrorist gangs” in the protest hubs of Homs and Daraa, state news agency SANA reported.
The deadly confrontations occurred as troops and security forces “arrested dozens of wanted men and seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition in the Bab Amr neighborhood of Homs” and in Daraa.
Another a human rights activist said shelling and automatic weapons fire had rocked Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.
The army also kept up its sweep of the flashpoint Mediterranean town of Banias, scouting for “protest organizers yet to be arrested,” said Rami Abdul Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Between 600 and 700 people have been killed and at least 8,000 arrested since the start of the protest movement in mid-March, human rights groups say.
In Washington, the US Department of State denounced the crackdown as “barbaric.”
Syrian authorities “continue to extend their violent actions against peaceful demonstrators,” department spokesman Mark Toner said.
“These repressive measures — namely the ongoing campaign of arbitrary arrests, the denial of medical care to wounded persons, the inhumane conditions of detainees — are barbaric measures that amount to collective punishment of innocent civilians,” he said.
Russia, a traditional Damascus ally, rejected calls for a special UN Security Council meeting on Syria to condemn the crackdown.
China yesterday said the outside world should not interfere in Syria’s internal affairs, but instead play a “constructive role” in helping it return to peace and stability.
“Syria is an important country in the Middle East. We hope it can remain stable, and that all sides can, via political dialogue, resolve their differences and avoid bloodshed,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) told a regular news briefing.