Syrian death toll rises in crackdown
Syrian forces continue to attack civilian protesters in Hama and Damascus while UN struggles to agree to condemn violence
Syrian security forces continued to attack civilian protesters in the central city of Hama and in Damascus as the EU imposed sanctions on key regime figures and the UN struggled to agree to condemn the violence unleashed by President Bashar al-Assad.
Activists said 21 people had been killed across the country on Monday and seven more on Tuesday, bringing to at least 140 the number of fatalities since Sunday, when the government launched an offensive in Hama on the eve of the Ramadan fast.
Italy announced that it was recalling its ambassador from the Syrian capital for consultations, but this was not part of a move co-ordinated across the EU. The Foreign Office said Britain's envoy would stay in Damascus to monitor the situation and expose Syrian deception. The US embassy said several of its diplomats were also leaving the country.
In Damascus gunfire was heard as 20,000 people attended a funeral in the Arbeen area.
, where holding public funerals is dangerous, showed freshly-dug graves in a public park opposite the Sirjawi mosque.
New sanctions agreed by the EU targeted Syria's defence minster, Ali Habib Mahmoud, and three top security officials linked directly to the repression. Mohammed Makhklouf, Assad's uncle, was also subject to a travel ban and assets freeze already imposed on 30 regime figures.
Diplomats described a "positive atmosphere" during Monday's consultations by the UN security council in New York, with "more room to manoeuvre" because of a softening of Russia's position. Russia and China have previously refused to condemn Syria, partly because of anger over the way the UN action on Libya paved the way for Nato intervention and a policy of regime change.
But officials said it was unclear whether this would produce a formal statement or a fully-fledged UN resolution that could be vetoed by any one of the five permanent members of the council. Russia said it was not against a resolution but would oppose the imposition of sanctions or other "pressures" on Syria, a long-standing ally. The bloody events in Hama have a special and deeply sinister resonance in Syria because many thousands died there when Assad's father Hafez sent in tanks to crush an Islamist uprisng in 1982.
In Washington, meanwhile, three senators said they would introduce legislation to ramp up pressure on the Assad regime by penalising foreign companies that do business in Syria's energy sector.
Foreign journalists and independent human rights groups are largely banned from Syria but information about the unrest continues to flow freely. Film clips posted on YouTube showed a
for a man killed in the northern town of Idlib. Footage from Hama showed the corpse of a man whose head had reportedly been blown off by a tank shell. Another clip showed bodies in the city's Asi river, apparently with their throats cut. None of these could be independently authenticated.
Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called on Syria to stop the bloodshed immediately: "The government has been trying to keep the world blind about the alarming situation in the country. But they are not succeeding. The world is watching and the international community is gravely concerned."
Assad was shown in the official media visiting wounded members of the security forces in hospital on Monday, praising them for devotion to their duty. On Tuesday the president met a delegation of Syrians living in Italy.
Police attacked the central prison in Homs after a reported hunger strike by inmates — a tactic likely to bring up more bad memories. In 1980 security forces attacked Tadmor prison in retaliation for an attempt on the life of Hafez al-Assad, killing hundreds. Also in Homs, mourners gathered for the funerals of at least two people shot dead after prayers on Monday.
A relative of Adnan Abduldayem, 25, said he was shot in the head, through his right eye. "He had work in Saudi Arabia waiting for him and his family told him to go, but he refused to leave, saying he wanted to stay and protest against the regime."
Local co-ordination committees reported that government forces, including militiamen, had moved in on Zabadani, close to the Lebanese border. Reinforcements were sent to the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, where at least 25 people died over the weekend.
Nour Ali is a pseudonym for a journalist based in Damascus
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