(Updates with U.S. State Department comment in sixth paragraph. For more on the Middle East turmoil, see MET.)
July 5 (Bloomberg) -- A boy was among at least 11 protesters killed in Syria as security forces targeted cities where thousands attended anti-government rallies against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, activists said.
At least three died today and Omar Khalouf, 12, was killed yesterday with two adults in Hama, where tanks had been deployed at the edge of the city north of the capital, Damascus, said Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights. Security forces killed three protesters in Maarat al-Numan and at least two in a Damascus suburb, said Merhi and Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
At least 50 people were wounded in Hama, where rallies July 1 and 2 drew as many as 400,000 people, they said in phone interviews. Nasser al-Shami, a boxer who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, was among those injured yesterday, Merhi said.
Hama was the site of an uprising in 1982 that was crushed by Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, leaving about 10,000 dead, according to Human Rights Watch.
Pro-government forces have killed more than 1,500 people since the start of the unrest, according to Qurabi and Merhi. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said July 1 that Assad is “running out of time” to meet the protesters’ demands. A U.S.-led effort to get the United Nations Security Council to condemn the violence was blocked by China and Russia.
The Syrian government’s talk of reconciliation with protesters demanding more democratic rights hasn’t been met by its actions, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today. “We see Hama surrounded by Syrian security forces, so we’re going in the wrong direction,” she said, speaking to reporters in Washington.
Hundreds have been arrested in Hama, in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Douma, in the province of Idlib in the north and in the southern province of Daraa, where the rallies against Assad’s rule began in mid-March, acccording to the human rights activists.
The army has attacked demonstrators near the border with Turkey, deploying at least 60 tanks along with helicopters in Idlib. Three people died during rallies in the central province of Homs July 1, according to Qurabi.
At least 20,000 people have been arrested since the start of the unrest, and half of them remain in detention, Qurabi said. Assad has blamed the protests on a foreign conspiracy, while also saying that the demands of demonstrators “have merit” and that reforms are needed.
Critics of Assad’s leadership met at a conference in Damascus last week, as his government set up a national dialogue committee. Most activists say such moves won’t work without policy changes.
Thousands of Syrians have fled across the border to Turkey to escape violence in northern towns, straining relations between the countries.
As many as 15,351 Syrians have entered Turkey and settled in six tent cities set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in the province of Hatay, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said today in a statement. A total of 5,673 have since returned to Syria, with the number in the camps dropping to 9,678.
--With assistance from David Lerman in Washington. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow
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