U.N., Arab League condemn violence in Syria; 20 reported killed
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- The United Nations and the Arab League issued separate condemnations Saturday of violence in Syria after dozens were reported killed a day earlier in one of the deadliest single-day tolls since protests erupted more than seven months ago.
“The calls of the Syrian people for change must be answered with far-reaching reforms, not repression and violence,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest admonishment of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Anti-Assad activists reported that bloodshed continued Saturday with at least 20 more killed, including 12 in Homs and three more to the north in Hama, another restive city.
Amateur footage uploaded to YouTube and said to have been filmed Saturday in Homs' Bab Amro district showed smoke rising amid apparent gunfire. (See below.) Other video clips purported to show tanks positioned in the streets.
An Arab League ministerial committee, meantime, expressed its “rejection of the continued killings of civilians in Syria.”
The condemnation came a day before an Arab League delegation is scheduled to meet in Qatar with the Syrian foreign minister. League members, who met last week with Assad, say they want to foster a dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition.
The official Syrian news agency, SANA, quoted “an official source” as saying the league’s declaration was “based on media lies,” a frequent lament from Damascus. But the government has placed severe restrictions on journalists and human rights investigators, making it difficult to assess what is happening inside the country.
Anti-Assad activists said at least 40 people were killed across Syria on Friday as security forces attacked demonstrators and targeted dissenters. It was one of the largest single-day death tolls in months.
Many protesters on Friday carried banners calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria, like the U.N.-authorized action against Libya. But experts say foreign intervention in Syria remains a long shot.
The Syrian government disputed Friday's casualty reports but provided few details. Damascus has blamed the violence on armed “terrorists” who, it says, have killed more than 1,100 security officials.
Assad told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper that intervention in Syria would cause an "earthquake" that would "burn the whole region."
More than 3,000 people have been killed in Syria since unrest began in mid-March, according to the United Nations.
On Saturday, security forces swept through the flashpoint cities of Homs and Hama, among other sites, said the Local Coordinating Committees, a group demanding the ouster of Assad.
"I can hear the artillery and sniper fire from where I am,” a Homs resident, who asked to be identified only as Salem for security reasons, told the Times by telephone.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group, said 17 soldiers were killed overnight in clashes with suspected deserters. There was no official confirmation.
-- Alexandra Sandels and Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Syrian protesters make their way down Edgeware Road to the Syrian Embassy in London on Saturday. Credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
Video: Amateur footage purporting to show gunfire in the Bab Amro district of Homs in Syria on Saturday. Credit: YouTube