Syria bars medical access for protesters: HRW

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2011 6:55 AM
Syria bars medical access for protesters: HRW

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian security forces prevented wounded protesters reaching hospitals and stopped medical teams from treating them in two towns during last Friday's demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Pro-democracy protests against President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule have been shaking the country, known for its heavy-handed security apparatus, for more than three weeks.

Protests after mass Friday prayers have generally been the largest because emergency law, in force since the Baath Party took power in 1963, bans any gatherings and demonstrations not sponsored by the state.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said 27 people were killed in the southern city of Deraa and one other in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Friday.

"To deprive wounded people of critical and perhaps life-saving medical treatment is both inhumane and illegal," said Sarah Leah Witson, HRW's Middle East director.

"Syria's leaders talk about political reform, but they meet their people's legitimate demands for reform with bullets."

Based on witness accounts, HRW said security forces set up a roadblock near a bridge in Deraa to prevent protesters crossing to the other part of town.

One witness said about 50 soldiers were in front, surrounded by several thousand uniformed and civilian-clothed members of security services as well as snipers.

When protesters ignored the army's warnings to stop, security forces fired with Kalashnikovs and snipers opened fire at the same time.

DEMONSTRATORS "KILLED SECURITY FORCES"

Syrian state television on Friday aired footage of some plain-clothed masked gunmen firing from behind a wall in what it said was Deraa. Authorities said "armed groups," whom they have blamed for the unrest, killed 19 people in the city on Friday.

Two protesters told HRW that some demonstrators had seized weapons from an abandoned army checkpoint and shot at security forces, killing at least a dozen of them and setting two cars belonging to the military and security services on fire.

The government has restricted media access to the city, where protests first erupted in March. Syria's main rights movement has said 200 people have been killed in the unrest.

HRW's witness said security forces did not allow ambulances to pick up the wounded and continued shooting when protesters tried to carry the wounded away.

"(The witness) said that he later saw the bodies of a doctor, a nurse and an ambulance driver, who, other witnesses told him, were shot when their ambulance tried to reach the wounded protesters," HRW said in its statement.

HRW also documented the accounts of two witnesses in the Damscus suburb of Harasta who said security forces fired on protesters trying to help the wounded. Two doctors said they each treated four wounded protesters with bullet wounds in various parts of their bodies. Several were children.

"The Syrian authorities are responding to protests against repression with more repression: killings, mass arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture," Whitson said.

(Writing by Yara Bayoumy, editing by Paul Taylor)