Syria death toll exceeds 150 as killing escalates ahead of ceasefire deadline


Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed about 156 people nationwide on Saturday, about half of them were civilians, the Revolution Council reported, as the regime in Damascus intensified its brutal crackdown on the opposition three days ahead of U.N. deadline to pull back and end the violence.

Monitoring groups said most of the killings occurred in Hama, Homs and Aleppo. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported more than 60 people were killed in the Homs suburb of Latamna alone, which came under heavy bombardments by army tanks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the massive killing came after President Assad’s forces launched an overnight assault on Latamna and clashed with members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Al Arabiya TV’s correspondent in Damascus reported that Republican Guard reinforcements were deployed in the capital’s suburb of Douma.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has warned of “alarming” casualties as the Syrian government’s year-long crackdown on dissent – which the United Nations says has killed more than 9,000 people – showed no signs of abating.

Monitors put the number of dead at more than 10,000.

At least 77 people were killed nationwide on Thursday and 35 on Friday, mostly civilians, according to Observatory figures.

On Saturday, rebels attacked a military intelligence headquarters in the second city of Aleppo, the Observatory said, and army deserters also pressed a dawn assault on Ming air base in the same province.

Fighting was also reported between troops and deserters in districts of Hama city.

“Regular forces launched an assault early on Saturday on the al-Qussur district, where they burned down the house of an activist,” said an activist on the ground, Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi.

The Local Coordination Committees group, which organizes protests at a local level, on Saturday posted online videos of tanks and armored cars deploying in Douma, just north of the capital.

Thousands of people demonstrated in Damascus on Saturday in support of the ruling Baath party on the 65th anniversary of its creation, an AFP journalist said.

The official SANA news agency reported similar demonstrations in other cities that “expressed the Syrian people, army and leadership’s steadfastness in the face of the conspiracy hatched against Syria.”

Ban said on Friday that the increased attacks by Assad’s forces on cities “violate” a U.N. Security Council statement demanding an end to hostilities by Tuesday’s truce deadline.

He indicated that he believes Assad’s government is using the deadline to pull troops and heavy weapons away from cities as “an excuse” to step up the killing.

Ban “deplores the assault by the Syrian authorities against innocent civilians, including women and children, despite the commitments by the government of Syria to cease all use of heavy weapons in population centers,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

“The April 10 timeline to fulfill the government’s implementation of its commitments, as endorsed by the Security Council, is not an excuse for continued killing,” Ban added.

Opposition Free Syrian Army commander Colonel Riad al-Asaad said his men would cease fire, provided “the regime ... withdraws from the cities and returns to its original barracks.”

Syria has said the plan does not apply to armed police, who have played a significant role in battling the uprising.