The United States on Tuesday sharpened its criticism of Syria’s crackdown on protestors, and Amnesty International says Syria is torturing detainees.
In a notable toughening of rhetoric on Syria, the State Department is accusing Bashar al-Assad's government of "barbaric" action in Dara’a, and is calling on it to end violence and meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
Dera’a, in southwestern Syria, has become a focal point of anti-government unrest. Scores of civilians have been killed there since nationwide protests broke out in late March.
The Syrian government, which initially proposed reforms, has mounted a security sweep that it acknowledges included nearly 500 arrests on Sunday in Daraa alone.
State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that U.S. officials are "very disturbed" about credible reports of military operations in Daraa that include tanks.
"We’ve seen reports the Syrian government is conducting a widespread campaign of arbitrary arrests that target young men in Daraa," said Toner. "It’s also our understanding that electricity, communications and other public services have been cut off for several days, and that the humanitarian situation there is quite grave. These are, quite frankly, barbaric measures, and they amount to the collective punishment of innocent civilians."
Late last week, the Obama administration tightened long-standing sanctions against Syria, imposing economic curbs on intelligence and security officials, including a brother of President Assad who commands an army division operating in Daraa.
Asked whether the Syrian president might become a target of U.S. sanctions, spokesman Toner said options for further U.S. action "remain on the table."
Amnesty International said Tuesday that it has received first-hand reports of torture and other ill-treatment of Syrian detainees as a wave of arrests of anti-government protesters intensified last weekend.
Amnesty's international advocacy director, T. Kumar, says the tactics suggest that the Assad government has embarked on a "full blown crackdown" to crush the protest movement.
"What we have found recently is that on top of mass killings, using heavy weapons on civilian protesters, we also learned that those who have been arrested for peacefully demonstrating have been beaten up, tortured," said Kumar. "They also experienced harsh detention conditions."
An Amnesty International statement says protesters who have been swept up in the arrest wave in recent days are being held at unknown locations without access to visits from lawyers or family members, adding to fear for their safety.
The human rights monitoring group says it has obtained the names of 54 Syrians who were killed last Friday, bringing to 542 the number of protesters, bystanders and others who have been killed in six weeks of unrest.
Last week, the U.N. Human Rights Council condemned human rights violations in Syria and called for a U.N. fact-finding mission to investigate.
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