Syrian Activists Say Troops Raid Central City

Posted August 31st, 2011 at 6:40 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists and residents say government security forces and tanks have carried out fresh raids on houses in central Syria, searching for anti-government activists in an ongoing crackdown against dissent.

The activists said the raids Wednesday included troops in the flashpoint city of Hama.

The operations come a day after the United States announced it is widening sanctions on Syria. The new asset-freezes and bans on business interactions include Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, and Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali.

A State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday the three were targeted because of their role in propagating what she called the “reign of terror” that President Bashar al-Assad has unleashed on his people.

The Syrian government has blamed much of the country's violence on what it calls armed gangs and terrorists.

Amnesty International said Tuesday it believes at least 88 people, including 10 children, have died in detention during the five-month anti-government uprising. The rights group said 52 of them suffered some form of torture that likely contributed to their deaths. Before the uprising, its researchers typically recorded about five deaths per year in custody.

Also Tuesday, activists said Syrian troops killed at least seven people emerging from mosques on the first day of the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

Tuesday's bloodshed took place at the start of the Eid al-Fitr festival in southern Daraa province, the central city of Homs and the capital, Damascus. Activists say protests calling for Mr. Assad's ouster have grown more frequent since the fall of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

An opposition group, the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, said Syrian forces killed 551 people during Ramadan and that 130 others died on July 31 – the eve of the holy month – in a tank assault on the city of Hama.

The United Nations says more than 2,200 people have been killed since March, when protesters began calling for reforms and an end to Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule.