Death Toll Mounts from Crackdown in Central Syria

Posted June 2nd, 2011 at 8:55 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists say at least 15 people were killed on Thursday as Syrian security forces pound the central town of Rastan.

Witnesses say a number of buildings in the town have been destroyed as the government continues its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

On Wednesday, rights groups put the civilian death toll from the crackdown in that part of Syria at 41 or more, including two young girls.

Syrian activists say at least 25 children are among the more than 1,000 people killed, overall, during the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition organizers say that demonstrations they have called for Friday will honor the children killed in the uprising, among them a 13-year-old boy who activists say was tortured and killed by security forces – a charge denied by Syrian authorities.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition figures meeting in Turkey say they are working on a joint declaration on how to support the anti-government revolt. Turkey's Anatolia news agency says conference participants have also proposed setting up an assistance fund and asking Syrians and Arab nations to help those who have suffered from the unrest.

Witness reports of casualties in Syria, as well as official accounts, are difficult to independently verify because the government has barred most international journalists from the country.

On Wednesday, the government freed hundreds of political prisoners after Mr. Assad announced a general amnesty. The releases were an apparent bid to appease activists calling for his resignation. The United States and France both said the amnesty would not be enough.

Also Wednesday, President Assad announced the formation of a committee to map out a national dialogue with the opposition. State-run media quoted him as saying the talks will address issues related to Syria's social, economic and political future.

Syrian opposition activists have been protesting almost daily since March for democratic reforms and an end to Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule.