Wed, Aug 03, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Death toll in Syria rises as Italy recalls envoy to Damascus

Reuters, AMMAN

The death toll in Syria’s violent crackdown on opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Hama and elsewhere climbed yesterday, spurring Western efforts to pile diplomatic pressure on Damascus.

Tanks pounded residential neighborhoods across Hama, the scene of a 1982 massacre, after evening prayers on Monday, the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, witnesses said.

Human rights campaigners said assaults by Assad’s forces across Syria overnight and on Monday had killed at least 24 civilians, including 10 in Hama, where troops and tanks began a violent operation to regain control on Sunday.

That brought the total to about 134 dead throughout Syria in the past three days, 90 of them in Hama, according to witnesses, residents and rights campaigners.

Syria’s state news agency said “armed terrorist groups” had killed eight policemen in Hama. The government blames such groups for most killings in the five-month-old revolt, saying more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have died.

The plight of Hama has prompted many Syrians to stage solidarity marches since the start of Ramadan, but Assad’s tough response suggests he will resist calls for change that have swept Syria and much of the Arab world this year.

Syria has incurred international opprobrium for its harsh measures, but need not fear the kind of foreign military intervention that NATO launched to back rebels in Libya. The top US military officer called for a swift end to violence in Syria, but only diplomatic pressure was in view.

“There’s no indication whatsoever that the Americans are, that we would get involved directly with respect to this,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the end of a visit to Iraq.

Consultations at the Security Council on Monday failed to produce agreement on adopting a Western-backed draft resolution condemning Syria or settling for a less binding statement.

European countries first circulated the draft resolution two months ago, but Russia and China, both allies of Damascus, were opposed to it. Temporary council members Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa also said they did not support it.

Italy recalled its ambassador from Syria yesterday in protest at the “horrible repression of the civilian population” and urged other EU members to do the same.

The EU formally added five more Syrian officials to an existing list of 29 individuals headed by Assad, whom the 27-nation bloc has targeted with asset freezes and travel bans.

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