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Syrian security forces kill 11; clashes at hospitals reported

The European Union announces new sanctions against the Syrian regime. On one of the nation's deadlier Fridays, demonstrators and security forces reportedly fight for possession of the dead and wounded at hospitals.

September 02, 2011|By Ellen Knickmeyer and Roula Hajjar, Los Angeles Times
  • Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, right, and Catherine Ashton, European Union's foreign policy chief, arrive for the Informal Meeting for Ministers of Foreign Affairs at a hotel in Sopot, northern Poland. The European Union announced tough new sanctions in response to Syria's nearly six-month campaign to crush the country's largely nonviolent civilian uprising through military force and widespread detentions.
Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, right, and Catherine… (Reuters )

Reporting from Beirut — Syrian security forces killed 11 people Friday in what stood to be one of the deadlier days for protesters rallying against President Bashar Assad's government, according to activists. Demonstrators reported clashes in the streets and outside hospitals for possession of the bodies of the wounded and dead.

The European Union, meanwhile, announced tough new sanctions in response to Syria's nearly six-month campaign to crush the country's largely nonviolent civilian uprising through military force and widespread detentions.

The EU measure includes a ban on imports of Syrian oil to Europe, cutting off the European market to which Assad's government channels more than 95% of Syria's crude. Oil accounts for about a third of Syrian government revenue.

The United States imposed oil import and financial sanctions last month after repeated unheeded demands for Assad's government to stop the armed assaults on civilians.

Each week, Fridays have been the day of the biggest protests and clashes in Syria's uprising as crowds gather after prayers. Demonstrators and security forces alike have grown more organized in their tactics.

This Friday in a Damascus suburb, a protester named Wissam described chanting in a throng of demonstrators when he realized that tanks had begun surrounding the square where he and others were rallying.

"They were swarming all around us. Then the security forces started shooting ... straight at us," said the protester. He requested that only his first name be printed because he is in hiding from authorities.

Long minutes of gunfire sent most protesters scattering down side streets in Maaret Naaman, the suburb, Wissam said. "Some remain in the square, because they are fearless," he said.

The Local Coordinating Committees, an alliance of opposition activists, reported 11 people killed by midafternoon. They included at least two people in outlying districts of Damascus and two in the city of Homs, said Omar Ibly, a spokesman for the alliance.

In the Damascus suburbs of Kafarbatna and Erbeen, activists claimed that Syrian forces stormed two hospitals, firing weapons, as they tried to take the bodies of people killed and wounded in the protests. Activists and families surrounded the hospitals, trying to block security forces from taking the victims, the Local Coordinating Committees said.

Large crowds of protesters, ranging from several hundred to a few thousand, gathered Friday in suburbs, towns and cities around Syria in protests against Assad's government, according to videos posted on the Internet and accounts from activists.

The clashes highlighted how hospitals, and medical care for wounded protesters overall, have become a battleground and tactical weapon in the hands of Assad's forces, said Wissam Tarif, an opposition activist outside of Syria.

Especially at state hospitals, "what we have seen is security forces based in the hospitals; it is the security forces that have control of the hospitals, and in most cases the medical personnel cannot do anything about it," Tarif said.

Tarif described watching at a protest earlier in the uprising in the Damascus suburb of Douma as security forces and protesters scrambled to pull wounded people out of one another's grasp. Wounded are routinely "taken, kidnapped," from hospitals, Tarif said.

Deprivation of medical care has become "routine, systematic," he said. The growing danger of seeking treatment for gunshot wounds and other injuries from security forces has led activists to open secret treatment centers in homes, another activist said, and compelled many neutral doctors to choose between government detention and fleeing the country.

Security forces on Friday also stormed other traditional places of sanctuary: mosques. A video allegedly taken from inside a mosque in the city of Dara showed government forces in green fatigues and the paid government supporters in plainclothes, known as shabiha, readying assault rifles and clubs, then darting inside the mosque as bursts of gunfire sent up clouds of smoke.

Security forces "don't care anymore," Hani, an activist in the Damascus suburb of Hajar al Aswad, said by telephone. "They even enter and raid mosques as people are praying," including two raided Friday in his suburb, he said.

"Not even the mosques are off-limits," Hani said. "Nowhere is safe. There is no going back."

The United Nations said in mid-August that security forces had killed 2,200 people since protests against four decades of rule by the Assad family began in March. Activists have reported several deaths each day since then.

Knickmeyer and Hajjar are special correspondents.

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