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10,000 Palestinians Flee Syrian City

LATAKIA, Syria, Aug. 17 (UPI) — Syria’s assault on principal port city of Latakia is a crime against humanity, a senior Palestinian official said as 10,000 Palestinians fled the city.

The regime of President Bashar Assad has “lost rationality,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Voice of Palestine Radio Tuesday as U.N. officials said they had no information on the whereabouts of the Latakia Palestinians.

Activists said many fled for the countryside or for Aleppo, Syrian’s second-largest city, to the northeast.

Rabbo called the Syrian assault a “crime against humanity.”

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said: “We urge the Syrian authorities to stop the attack on the refugee camp immediately. It is unacceptable — we cannot accept it.”

Latakia, on the country’s Mediterranean coast, is the third population center to bear the full brunt of Assad’s military and security forces this month.

The five-day death toll reached 40 Wednesday, residents and activists said.

“There are many snipers on the rooftops around the areas that are besieged,” an activist who called himself Ahmad told Britain’s The Guardian. “We can see them. Armored vehicles are still here but they stopped shooting and there is less gunfire. The [plain-clothed, armed] shabiha [loyal to Assad] and security forces this morning were cleaning the streets, taking any dead bodies and removing bullets and everything. We think they will destroy the neighborhood. What happened was a massacre, a massacre.”

The Syrian government repeated its claim it was fighting armed gangs that had infiltrated Latakia and were terrorizing locals, with an official close to the information ministry alleging jihadists who fled Libya were attempting to ignite sectarian chaos.

It said Wednesday security forces had finished their Latakia mission and would leave after “putting an end to the armed terrorist groups who terrified the safe citizens by their criminal acts,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Latakia Palestinians live in an unofficial refugee camp established in 1956 in the city after Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes during the fighting at the creation of Israel.

Most originally came from the city of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv, and from Galilee and villages that are also now part of Israel.

Palestinians occupy one of the city’s largest neighborhoods, drawing poor job-seekers, The New York Times said.

Demonstrations have erupted there and nearby since Syria’s uprising began in March.

“A forgotten population has now become a disappeared population,” said Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides education, healthcare, social services and emergency aid to about 4.8 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The situation is “very, very worrying,” the Times quoted Gunness as saying from the agency’s office in Jerusalem.

Raml is “all but deserted,” he said.

Latakia has a minority Armenian community and a small Greek community.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was not ready to call on Assad to step down because a U.S. voice alone would be ineffective.

“It’s not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,” Clinton said Tuesday at the National Defense University in Washington. “OK, fine, what’s next? If Turkey says it, if [Saudi Arabia's] King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.”

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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