7 Killed in Syria, Amnesty Takes Effect

Posted November 5th, 2011 at 3:15 pm (UTC-5)
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At least seven people are dead after Syrian forces clashed with protesters on Saturday, the same day a week-long government amnesty program took effect.

Activists say Saturday's violence included heavy artillery fire in the Homs region, including the flashpoint Baba Amr district.

It is the third straight day that activists have said government forces entered Homs, in an apparent crackdown on dissent. The crackdown is taking place as Syria begins an amnesty program for citizens who have sold or possessed weapons.

Under the amnesty, citizens who have not committed murder will be released soon after they turn themselves in to police and hand over their weapons.

Shortly after the interior ministry announced the program Friday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland advised Syrians not to turn themselves in to authorities.

On Saturday, the Syrian government condemned Nuland's comments as “irresponsible” and accused her of supporting “armed groups” who were carrying out acts of violence against civilians.

Syrian officials also marked the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha Saturday by releasing more than 550 people who had been arrested during anti-government protests.

Meanwhile in Cairo, Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi deplored the ongoing violence and warned Damascus that its failure to abide by an Arab peace plan would be a “catastrophe for both Syria and the region.”

Western countries, such as the United States and France, have questioned the Syrian government's commitment to the Arab League plan brokered on Wednesday that calls for a halt to violence and talks between the government and the opposition.

On Friday, activists said security forces killed at least 19 people as anti-government protesters rallied across the country. Activists blamed pro-government forces for at least 12 deaths in Homs on Thursday.

The United Nations says the number of people killed during the eight-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has topped 3,000.

The Syrian government has blamed much of the unrest on “terrorists” and gunmen.