Syrian forces killed at least 13 civilians in the central town of Rastan on Thursday, activists said, in the latest attempt to quell a revolt against the 11-year rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Assad’s legitimacy had “nearly run out” and called for a more united international response to the crackdown in Syria.
Syria’s exiled opposition, meeting in Turkey, urged Assad to resign immediately and hand power to the vice president until a council is formed to oversee a transition to democracy.
“The delegates have committed to the demands of the Syrian people to bring down the regime and support the people’s revolution for freedom and dignity,” said a communique issued by 300 opposition figures after two days of talks in Antalya.
Security forces backed by tanks have laid siege to Rastan, a town of 60,000, since Sunday in an effort to crush protests.
The 13 dead were shot by snipers and troops who imposed a curfew, said Ammar Qurabi, head of the Syrian National Organization for Human Rights, and lawyer Razan Zaitouna.
Syria has barred most international media, making it difficult to verify accounts of the violence.
Qurabi said some residents had occasionally used guns.
“There have been rare instances of people who have seen their parents, wives or children being killed, [people] taking their personal weapons and trying to resist, but they were smothered by the overwhelming and unjustifiable force being used by the authorities,” he said at the meeting in Turkey.
He said his organization had the names of 1,113 civilians killed since anti-Assad protests erupted on March 18.
Syria blames the unrest on armed groups backed by Islamists and foreign powers. Assad has sent security forces and tanks to several flashpoints, including Deraa, Banias and Tal Kelakh, a border town near Lebanon, and now Rastan.
While the crackdown on Rastan intensified, authorities began freeing hundreds of political prisoners after Assad issued a general amnesty, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Two UN special advisers, Francis Deng and Edward Luck, voiced alarm on Thursday about the Syrian authorities’ “systematic and deliberate attacks” against civilians in a joint statement and urged an investigation.
Rami Abdelrahman, the observatory’s director, said most of those released under the amnesty were protesters from the suburbs of Damascus, the cities of Banias, Homs and Latakia, as well as Daraa in the south and the eastern Hasaka region.