Damascus, July 7– Syrian troops killed at least 22 people in an assault on the flashpoint central city of Hama that prompted US calls for an immediate pullback, human rights activists said on Wednesday.
Troops also wounded more than 80 people as they pushed through improvised roadblocks put up by residents after massive anti-government protests in the city of some 800,000 people, the National Organization for Human Rights said.
“The wounded are being treated in two hospitals in Hama,” the rights group’s chairman Ammar Qurabi told AFP, adding that troops had entered the Al-Hurani hospital.
“A large number of Hama residents have fled either to the nearby town of Al-Salamiya or towards Damascus,” Qurabi said, adding that there were “continued search and kill operations and arrests in the city.”
London-based watchdog Amnesty International accused the authorities of committing crimes against humanity in its deadly crackdown on the unprecedented anti-government protests that have swept the country since mid-March.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the body of one of those killed in Tuesday’s assault had been dumped in the Orontes (Assi) river in Hama, which is famous for its ancient watermills.
A 12-year-old boy was among three people killed by security forces on the outskirts of the city on Monday, activists contacted by telephone told AFP. “Residents have mobilized. They’re prepared to die to defend the city if need be rather than allow the army to enter,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory.
“Residents have been sleeping on the streets and put up sand barriers and tires to block any assault,” he told AFP on Tuesday.
But the US State Department said it too had no evidence that the protests had been anything othsr than peaceful and called on the Syrian government to withdraw its troops from Hama. “We urge the government of Syria to immediately halt its intimidation and arrest campaign, to pull its security forces back from Hama and other cities, and to allow Syrians to express their opinions freely so that a genuine transition to democracy can take place,” spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.