Death Toll Mounts in Syria as World Powers Appeal for Calm

Posted August 9th, 2011 at 2:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey and other foreign powers have made fresh appeals for Syria to stop its violent crackdown on political dissidents. The calls come as rights activists say renewed government attacks Tuesday killed at least 25 people.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says he discussed ways to end the bloodshed with President Bashar al-Assad during talks in Damascus Tuesday. He told reporters later the talks were cordial and that Turkey had vowed to maintain contact with Syria.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency summed up the meeting by noting that Mr. Assad emphasized his country will not relent in its pursuit of what it called “armed terrorist groups.”

Meanwhile, human rights groups say Syrian security forces with tanks pushed into the Hama region on Tuesday and also carried out raids in several villages near the Turkish border. They say most of the deaths occurred in the besieged Hama region and the eastern town of Deir el-Zour.

Activists say Syrian forces have killed hundreds of people in recent days.

The U.S. State Department says Mr. Assad had made “horrible choices” in Hama and Deir el-Zour. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said Tuesday that it is “deeply regrettable” that Mr. Assad does not seem to be hearing the “increasingly loud voice of the international community.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone to his Syrian counterpart on Tuesday and urged him to find ways to end the violence and enact political reforms.

Also, the Iraqi parliament urged Syria to end the bloodshed while Jordan and Egypt expressed concern about the unrest.

In another development, India, Brazil and South Africa have announced a joint mission to Syria. An Indian envoy says representatives of the three U.N. Security Council nations will travel to Damascus this week and urge the government to stop the violence and promote reforms.

President Assad is facing increased international pressure to stop military operations against the demonstrators. The Gulf Arab nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors from Syria.

On Monday, Syrian state media said President Assad had appointed the army chief of staff, General Dawoud Rajha, as the new defense minister. He replaces General Ali Habib, whom Syrian state media say is ill. It is the most significant change to the Syrian government leadership since nationwide protests against Mr. Assad's rule began in March.

President Assad has defended his crackdown on dissidents, saying it is a national duty to deal with what he called “outlaws” who block roads and, in his words, “terrorize” people. Speaking during talks with Lebanon's visiting foreign minister on Sunday, Mr. Assad also said Syria is on a path to reform.