Conflict & Justice

Syria security forces open fire after U.N. leaves

Syrian security forces killed at least seven people in a flashpoint central city following a visit by members of a U.N. humanitarian team, activists said Tuesday.

The United Nation's top human rights body, meanwhile, voted overwhelmingly to demand that Syria end its bloody crackdown and cooperate with an international inquiry into allegations of crimes against humanity, Associated Press reports.

The U.N. has said the overall death toll from President Bashar Assad's bloody crackdown has reached 2,200.

Seven people died on Monday, four of them when troops opened fire to disperse anti-government protesters in Homs, who had gathered in the main square for the arrival of a U.N. humanitarian team.

Associated Press reports:

Amateur videos posted by activists online showed crowds of people thronging several cars with the blue U.N. flag, flashing banners that read: "SOS" and "We will never stop until we get our freedom."

The protesters chanted for freedom and the downfall of the regime.

Syria granted a U.N. team permission to visit some of the centers of the protests and crackdown to assess humanitarian needs, but activists and a Western diplomat have accused the regime of trying to scrub away signs of the crackdown.

Residents and activists said it was quiet until the team left, after which troops opened fire to disperse the protest, killing four people. Three more were killed by gunmen elsewhere in Homs, which has become a hotbed of dissent against Assad.

The Local Coordination Committees and the London-based Observatory for Human Rights also reported that security forces stormed several villages in the southern and northern parts of the country, arresting scores on Tuesday.

The killings came as Assad -  who simply blames the five-month revolt on Islamic extremists and thugs - announced new government reforms on Tuesday, Xinhua reports.

Al-Assad issued the law of the local administration, providing for the decentralization of authority and concentrating power and responsibilities in the hands of the public, Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

The law is the second in 24 hours. On Monday, he issued a decree providing for the formation of a multi-party committee that will be entrusted with the authority to give the final say on applications to form parties or amend their internal systems, Xinhua reports.

He made a televised address on Sunday with the state-run Syrian TV, during which he pledged to hold the parliamentary elections in February and insisted he could deal with the unrest despite international calls for him to step down.

In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted 33-4 on Tuesday to condemn the violence by Syrian authorities and to dispatch a human rights team to probe alleged atrocities since March, AP reports.

The remaining countries on the 47-nation council abstained or were absent. China and Russia said they opposed the measure as unnecessary intervention. Syrian Ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi called the move "100 percent political", it reports.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay demanded Syria immediately halt its crackdown and told members of the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva that "the scale and nature of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity."

She said some 2,200 people have died as a result of the government crackdown, with 350 reportedly killed since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early August.

On Sunday, al-Assad rejected international calls for his ouster and promised steps toward political reform, CNN reports.

In his televised interview, al-Assad continued to deny that his military has targeted peaceful protesters, despite widespread reports from witnesses, medical officials and diplomats in the country, it says.

European leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama have called for him to step down and the U.S. has imposed new economic sanctions.