Syrian security forces killed two relatives of a defecting military officer, as opposition groups urged Russia to abandon its backing for President Bashar al- Assad and help end his government’s violent crackdown.
A child and brother of Colonel Hussein Harmoush, the most senior army commander to switch sides, were killed today in the northern province of Idlib, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a phone interview from Damascus. At least 11 people were wounded in the suburbs of the capital, where gunfire was heard by residents, he said. Seven protesters died yesterday in Idlib and the central region of Homs, Merhi said.
More than 3,100 civilians have been killed in Syria since protests began in March, according to Merhi and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. About 30,000 people have been detained and 13,000 of them are still being held, the activists estimate.
Security forces “forcibly” removed 18 wounded people from al-Barr hospital in Homs on Sept. 7, including five from the operating room, Human Rights Watch said late yesterday, citing witnesses, including doctors. The forces also prevented medical personnel from reaching the wounded in a number of the city’s neighborhoods, the New York-based organization said.
U.S. and European leaders have stepped up sanctions against Assad and called on him to cede power. The measures haven’t halted the suppression of what Syria’s government calls foreign- backed terrorism. The protests spread after popular uprisings toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
“The development of the Russian position is slower than we hope,” Qurabi, who is also chairman of the executive bureau of the Syrian Conference for Change, an umbrella organization of exile groups, said in an interview today in Moscow. “Events on the ground are faster than we hope.”
Qurabi led a delegation of Assad’s opponents who met with Mikhail Margelov, President Dmitry Medvedev’s envoy to Africa and the Middle East, in the upper house of the Russian parliament.
Russia warned this week that any efforts to overthrow Assad by military force would unleash chaos in the Middle East, saying it categorically opposes external intervention. Russia, whose only Middle Eastern military facility is in Syria, an ally since the Soviet era, has rejected U.S. and European calls for Assad to step down.
Medvedev said Russia may back a “variety of approaches” on Syria as long as the measures target both sides of the conflict, which he said includes “extremists” and “terrorists” among protesters. “They should not be based on a unilateral condemnation of the government,” Medvedev told Euronews yesterday in the Russian city of Yaroslavl.
The European Union and U.S. have announced sanctions against Syria including bans on oil imports.