(Updates death toll in first paragraph.)
Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian security forces killed at least 15 protesters before a planned visit to Damascus by the head of the 22-member state Arab League for talks on the six months of conflict in the nation.
Demonstrators were killed yesterday in the central city of Homs and the northern province of Idlib, according to Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights. Security forces also carried out a “major assault” yesterday on the town of Nawa, near the southern province of Daraa where the uprising began in March, Merhi said by phone today.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi will visit Damascus tomorrow, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday, without saying how it got the information. The visit takes place in the wake of expanded sanctions by the European Union in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on dissent.
Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago, faces the biggest challenge to his rule as international pressure to end the violence increases. The EU announced on Sept. 3 that it had added four people and three companies to the list of those targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban against Syria, where the unrest began in mid-March. A day earlier, the EU banned imports of Syrian oil.
‘Lost All Legitimacy’
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday called on Assad to leave office, saying in the House of Commons that “he has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead Syria.”
Cameron said the U.K. will continue to argue at the United Nations to build on the EU’s oil embargo. Syria shipped 3.2 billion euros ($4.5 billion) of oil to the EU last year, about 88 percent of its total exports to the bloc, according to EU figures. The U.S. imposed a similar ban last month.
More than 2,450 civilians and 700 members of the security forces have been killed during the crackdown, while 15,000 people have been injured and at least 20,000 are in prison, according to Merhi.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, said after a meeting with Assad yesterday that his delegation was given permission to visit the Damascus Central Prison. “We are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees,” he said in a statement.
Merhi said human-rights organizations should be permitted to visit prison inmates throughout Syria, including those in facilities run by the security services that aren’t controlled by the Interior Ministry.
Security forces have failed to halt the protests, which were inspired by unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that unseated Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the following month. Muammar Qaddafi is in hiding after an uprising ended his control over most of Libya.
--Editors: John Brinsley, Ben Holland, James Hertling.
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