DAMASCUS, Aug 2 – At least 24 civilians were killed by security forces across Syria, including 10 after evening prayers on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a human rights activist said on Tuesday.,
The reports of new deaths came as the UN Security Council was to hold a second day of emergency talks on the deadly crackdown in Syria.
“Ten martyrs fell and several people were wounded by gunfire from security forces during protests in several Syrian towns after the ‘taraweeh’ evening prayers” on Monday’s first day of Ramadan, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that the day’s death toll was 24.
He told AFP in Nicosia that six people were killed when thousands of protesters turned out in Irbin northeast of the capital, one was killed near Damascus, two in Latakia and one in the central city of Homs.
More than 150 people were taken in for questioning on Monday evening, Abdel Rahman added.
After President Bashar al-Assad’s tanks shelled the protest hub of Hama on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Western powers again demanded a condemnation of the violence, but the first day of closed session UN talks ended with no agreement.
A top UN official told the meeting that on top of 140 people reported killed in a military offensive on Sunday, 3,000 people have gone missing and 12,000 been taken prisoner since the anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March, diplomats said.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal hope to revive a formal resolution condemning Assad’s crackdown, a move which will be discussed on Tuesday.
Diplomats said, however, that it was more likely the Security Council would agree a statement, with no warning of UN action.
The UN meeting came after Assad showered praise on his troops to mark Army Day, saying in a speech that the army had “proved its loyalty to its people, country and creed.”
“Its efforts and sacrifices will be admired. These sacrifices succeeded in foiling the enemies of the country and ending sedition, preserving Syria.”
The embattled president also visited wounded soldiers in a Damascus hospital and said “all Syrians appreciate the army,” state news agency SANA reported.
Russia and China, two of the five permanent UN Security Council members with veto powers, had threatened to block past attempts to pass a resolution on Syria.
Brazil, India and South Africa had also spoken out against a resolution or statement.
But diplomats said all countries expressed concern about the intensifying crackdown and there was now wider acceptance that the Security Council must act.
US ambassador Susan Rice said an “alarming” briefing on events in Syria had been given by UN assistant secretary general Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.
“There was pretty widespread expression of concern, or expression of condemnation,” she told reporters after the meeting.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the holdouts to reconsider.
“We call on those members of the United Nations Security Council who have opposed any Security Council action that would call on Assad to stop the killing to reconsider their positions,” she said in a statement.
“And we call on the international community to come together behind the people of Syria in this critical time.”
Moscow, meanwhile, urged Damascus on Monday to stop using force and repression against civilian protesters.
On Sunday, Syrian forces killed around 140 people across the country, including more than 100 in Hama, scene of an Islamist revolt in 1982 that was crushed at the cost of an estimated 20,000 lives.
Abdel Rahman called Sunday “one of the deadliest days” since the anti-regime protests broke out in mid-March.
The head of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, Abdel Karim Rihawi, told AFP that “intense shooting” was heard across Hama late on Monday.
The official SANA news agency said troops were locked in clashes with “saboteurs” in the city.
“The army is pursuing its mission in Hama and is removing barricades erected by groups of saboteurs at the entrances of the city,” SANA said.
More than 1,60O civilians and 369 members of the army and security forces have been killed since mid-March in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory.
Abdel Rahman also reported that tanks rumbled Monday into Al-Bukamal, on the border with Iraq, two weeks after troops surrounded the town which official media said was used to smuggle in weapons and money.
Reinforcements were dispatched further north to the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, another rallying point of anti-regime protests
“More than 80 tanks are heading there, in what appears to be the prelude to a vast military operation,” said Abdel Rahman, quoting residents.
Troops backed by tanks also stormed Al-Hulla, northwest of Syria’s third city Homs, where residents reported heavy gunfire and said 15 people were wounded and 18 arrested, according to the Observatory.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed that a new set of sanctions would be imposed from Tuesday on five Syrians “involved in or associated with the violence” and urged the UN to take a “clear stand.”