Rights Group: Syria Using Hospitals to Crush Dissent

Posted October 25th, 2011 at 6:25 am (UTC-5)
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A human rights group says Syria is using hospitals as a tool in its efforts to crush dissent.

London-based Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday that patients in four government-run hospitals have been tortured, and that medical workers suspected of treating protesters have been targeted by government security forces.

The group says the patients have been attacked by staff and security personnel at hospitals in Banias, Homs and Tell Kalakh. It also says many people find it safer to let wounds go untreated rather than go to medical facilities.

Amnesty International called on the Syrian government to direct hospitals to accept and treat all patients without delay.

Also Tuesday, China urged Syria to carry out its reform promises and respond to the demands of its people. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China wants all sides to refrain from violence and resolve the crisis peacefully.

A Chinese envoy is due to visit Syria beginning Wednesday. China, along with Russia, vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this month that condemned Syria for its crackdown on civilian protesters.

Meanwhile, in an expected move, Syria has ordered home its ambassador to the United States. The action came hours after Washington announced that the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, had left Damascus after he received what were called “credible threats.”

A spokesman for the Syrian government says its ambassador was recalled for consultations and that the embassy's chargé d'affaires is replacing him. No further details were provided.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington wants to talk to the ambassador about how he sees the situation in Damascus.

Ford has been an open critic of the Syrian government's violent crackdown on political dissent, which the United Nations says has killed 3,000 people since the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in March.

U.S. officials say Ford left Damascus in recent days. It is not known when he will return. They called on the Syrian government to end its “incitement campaign” against the ambassador.

In July, the Syrian government issued an order restricting the movements of foreign ambassadors after Ford and the French ambassador visited the flashpoint city of Hama to show solidarity with residents there. Last month, an angry mob confronted Ford as he prepared to meet a leading opposition figure in Damascus.

Ford is the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since former U.S. president George W. Bush recalled his envoy to Damascus in 2005. That decision came after the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Syria supports neighboring Lebanon's Hezbollah faction, which has been linked to Mr. Hariri's murder. Hezbollah and Syria deny any involvement.

The U.S. State Department also said Monday that it appears Syrian forces have entered Lebanese territory during the past few weeks. A spokesman said the U.S. condemns the violation of Lebanon's sovereignty, and is concerned about the possible capture or killing of Syrian dissidents during operations near the border.