- Associated Press - Sunday, August 7, 2011

BEIRUT — Syrian troops fired on mourners at a funeral and raided an eastern city Sunday, killing at least 59 people in an intensifying government crackdown on protesters. More than 300 people have died in the past week, the bloodiest in the five-month uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad.

Syria’s Arab neighbors forcefully joined the growing international chorus of condemnation against Mr. Assad’s regime for the first time on Sunday.

Even the king of Saudi Arabia - whose country does not tolerate dissent and lent its troops to repress anti-government protests in neighboring Bahrain - harshly criticized the Syrian government and said he was recalling his ambassador in Damascus for consultations.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia … demands an end to the death machine and bloodshed and calls for acts of wisdom before it is too late,” said a statement by Saudi King Abdullah.


The 22-member Arab League, which had been silent since the uprising began, said Sunday it is “alarmed” by the situation in Syria and called for the immediate halt of all violence.

Not all were killed by bullets or tank shells: In the besieged city of Hama, where the government has cut off electricity and communications, a rights group said eight babies died because their incubators lost power.

The worst violence was in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, where troops stepped up a siege that had already been going on for days, said human rights groups.

At least 42 people were killed in a raid on the city that began before dawn, said Abdul-Karim Rihawi, the Damascus-based chief of the Syrian Human Rights League, and Ammar Qurabi, who heads the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

Amateur video posted online by activists showed what they said were parts of Deir el-Zour, with the sound of heavy cracks of gunfire and prayers blaring from loudspeakers. Another video showed Syrian troops on a hill as they positioned an anti-aircraft gun.

An activist in the city said the military attacked before dawn from four sides and took control of eight neighborhoods.

“Humanitarian conditions in the city are very bad because it has been under siege for nine days,” the activist said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “There is lack of medicine, baby formula, food and gasoline. The city is totally paralyzed.”

The attack on Deir el-Zour is part of the latest phase of the government crackdown that began a week ago, just before the start of Ramadan when many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, then eat festive meals and gather in mosques for special nightly prayers.

The government has been trying to prevent the large mosque gatherings from turning into a new wave of anti-government protests, like those that have been sweeping the country since mid-March.

The government’s crackdown has left more than 1,700 dead, according to activists and human rights groups. Mr. Assad’s regime disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest.

The central city of Hama had been the focus of the crackdown for most of the past week.

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