Last Updated: Tue Jul 24, 2012 11:36 am (KSA) 08:36 am (GMT)

Syrian regime forces commit massacre inside Aleppo prison as refugee numbers rise

Demonstrators protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Sermada near Idlib. (Reuters)
Demonstrators protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Sermada near Idlib. (Reuters)

The Syrian regime moved its fight to prisons, where hundreds of protesters and political detainees are held. The Syrian government forces committed a new massacre overnight inside al-Maslamiya central prison in Aleppo, where 15 prisoners were killed and 40 others were injured, Al Arabiya reported on Tuesday citing activists at the Aleppo Revolution Council.

Meanwhile, as many as 37 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country on Tuesday, according to the Local Coordination Committees activists.

Activists said that the regime forces refused to evacuate the killed from the prison to hand them over to their relatives.

“Heavy clashes were taking place around the central prison between the Free Syrian Army and the regime forces,” Abu Abdullah al-Halabi, spokesperson of the Aleppo Revolution Council, had earlier told Al Arabiya in a phone call.

Security forces “opened fire with bullets and tear gas on the detainees at Aleppo central prison in response to a peaceful sit-in organized by prisoners because of the great injustice of which they are victims,” the Syrian National Council (SNC) said in a statement.

The statement said regime forces had fired on the prison from helicopters as the fire raged inside, preventing help from arriving at the facility.

The regime forces also threatened to storm central prison in Homs, activists at the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) told Al Arabiya. They said that the prison was rocked by some blasts, leaving scores of injuries.

They pointed out to the devastating humanitarian state inside the prison, die to the blockade imposed by the Syrian troops, who also prevent food, water and children’s milk from reaching the women prisoners. The prisoners urged the help of the international aid organizations and called for their protection against the mass killing inside the central prison in Homs they are exposed to, sources told Al Arabiya.

Syrian authorities and opposition activists said fierce clashes have persisted overnight in Syria’s commercial capital of Aleppo, stretching into a fourth day, The Associated Press reported.

The state news agency said Tuesday that regime forces fought with rebels in the neighborhoods of Salaheddine and Sukkari and claimed they inflicted heavy losses.

The Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, reported heavy fighting after midnight in several neighborhoods as well as shelling by regime forces. Some areas also saw protests calling for the fall of the government early in the morning.

Fighting broke out in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, over the weekend with rebels announcing a plan to liberate the city.

The operation comes as government forces appear to have reasserted its control over the capital Damascus after a week of fighting.

Rise in number of Syrian refugees

Meanwhile, EU officials said that the number of Syrian refugees fleeing fighting in their country has reached 115,000 and aid agencies must develop a plan to deal with the growing humanitarian emergency.

“It’s a horrible situation there, changing by the hour,” Ceclia Malmstrom. European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs, told journalists following a meeting of aid officials in Cyprus on Monday, according to Reuters.

Cyprus, which holds the rotating six month EU presidency, is the closest member state to Syria, separated by a 170 km stretch of sea.

European Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, meeting at an informal session, heard from United Nations aid agency UNHCR that 115,000 Syrians had already fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

In consultation with the EU, Cyprus has drafted contingency plans to assist in the evacuation of up to 200,000 people -- EU passport holders and third-country nationals -- as a worst case scenario, officials said.

Cypriot officials have stressed the contingency planning would only be to facilitate the repatriation of people fleeing violence, and not for admitting Syrian refugees.

Separately, Malmstrom said EU ministers had discussed what she said was establishing a “special version of a regional protection program” which would focus on humanitarian assistance, return of displaced persons, integration and resettlement.

“This was an informal meeting, the first time in this context that we discussed the horrible situation in Syria, so it was more exploratory,” she told a news conference.

“This is something we are looking at and we will come back to it because, unfortunately, the conflict is not likely to cease in the coming weeks,” she said.

According to UNHCR assessments, 42,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey, between 30,000 and 34,000 each to Jordan and Lebanon and 8,000 to Iraq, Eleni Mavrou, Cyprus’s Interior Minister, said.

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