BEIRUT — Syrian security forces are summarily executing people on the streets of Hama, a human rights group said Thursday, raising fears that bloodshed could escalate dramatically in the besieged city even as world condemnation of the violence continues to mount.
Activists said an initial count suggested 100 people were killed in Hama on Wednesday, bringing to more than 200 the number who have died since the military first moved Sunday to crush the revolt there as part of a broader offensive to quell the nationwide uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
A government crackdown on protesters in Hama, Syria kills at least 55 people in one of the bloodiest clashes since people started pushing for democracy in March. The European Union says it is tightening sanctions as a result. (Aug. 1)
An almost-complete communications blackout kept Hama cut off from the outside world for a second consecutive day, making it hard to verify information or obtain an exact casualty toll. Syrian authorities suspended cellphone services, land lines, electricity and water when tanks rumbled into the city center on Wednesday, drawing an international outcry and the first statement from the United Nations condemning the brutal suppression of protesters since the revolt began in March.
But reports filtering out from residents with satellite phones and people who managed to flee painted a grim picture of a city under siege, with tanks deployed at every major intersection, bodies lying uncollected on the streets and people burying the dead in gardens.
The human rights group Avaaz quoted a doctor at a city hospital as saying that at least 109 people were killed in bombardments and shootings during Wednesday’s onslaught.
Wissam Tarif, an activist with the group, said he had spoken by satellite phone to the doctor, who counted the 109 bodies on a tour of hospitals and clinics in three neighborhoods. A number of the victims he had received at his own hospital had been shot at close range in the head, Tarif said, leading the doctor to conclude that at least some of the victims had been executed.
“He doesn’t know if they are random executions or if they are targeting known activists,” Tarif said. “He says the crackdown is being taken to a different level, with the security forces shooting everything.”
He said the hospitals are overwhelmed by scores of injuries and are running out of blood. He added that doctors are being forced to make decisions about whom to save and whom to allow to die based on the complexity of people’s injuries and the time it would take to perform surgery.
The revolt in Hama had seen Syria’s fourth-largest population center transformed into what activists called a “liberated” city. Security forces had retreated, enabling massive anti-government protests to proceed unhindered in the city for weeks.
The hundreds of thousands of people who attended the rallies inspired protesters elsewhere in the country, and U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford visited in early July in a gesture of American support. Hama’s reputation as the site of a major massacre in 1982 in which at least 10,000 people died, during the rule of Assad’s father, had led many residents to hope that the city was simply too sensitive a site to attack.