Syrian Cities Scrubbed Ahead Of U.N. Visit


LATAKIA, Syria, Aug. 22 (UPI) — A U.N. team inspected a Syrian city for atrocities Monday hours after the regime scrubbed blood off the streets to hide evidence, diplomats and residents said.

The U.N. humanitarian fact-finding team arrived at the Mediterranean port city of Latakia following a large-scale security-force city cleanup, especially of the Ramel Palestinian refugee camp, which was heavily targeted by Syrian troops, the diplomats and residents said.

“They are literally sweeping glass and stones up, and scrubbing blood off the streets,” the Los Angeles Times and Britain’s Daily Telegraph quoted a Western diplomat as saying.

The cleanup sought to cover up evidence of atrocities by security forces and soldiers backed by hundreds of tanks, Mohamed Fizo, a member of the activist Local Coordination Committees, which tracks the uprising and organizes some protests, said.

Some residents, including children, “were forced to put flowers on the tanks and were filmed by the Syrian state-run TV and the private TV station al-Dunya saying that they asked the army to intervene in the camp,” a witness told the Times.

Security forces took the bodies of the dead to an unknown location, a resident said.

“Reports of a cleanup square perfectly with the version of events which the regime is denying,” a diplomat told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “But any attempts to whitewash and destroy evidence can only backfire on this isolated regime.”

Residents of two other restive cities the U.N. team planned to visit — Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, and Hama, the fourth-largest — said similar cleanups took place there Sunday to cover up evidence of the Assad regime’s brutal attempts to crush the uprising.

A Homs resident told The Guardian that even as the cleanup took place, snipers on buildings, shooting was heard inside a hospital and tanks were poised outside the city.

“The situation is terrible, even after [President Bashar] Assad says there aren’t tanks and after [U.S. President Barack] Obama tells him to step aside,” the resident said.

The U.N. team also planned to visit the southwestern city of Daraa, near Jordan, the uprising’s starting point, and Jisr al-Shugur, under a security-force siege in June and the subject of bloody crackdowns since.

Assad appeared on state-run Syrian TV Sunday night, dismissing U.S. and European calls for him to step down as “meaningless” and saying Syria could easily withstand escalating international sanctions.

“I am not worried, and I want to reassure everybody,” Assad said in an interview-type program in which he acknowledged Syria’s “security situation” had “become more militant in recent weeks, especially last Friday.”

More than four dozen people, including at least four children, were reported shot dead by Syrian forces in Daraa, Homs, Latakia, the northeast city of Hasaka, suburban Damascus and the ancient desert city of Palmyra, whose ruins are comparable to those of ancient Greece.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said 12 police, army and security-force members also died in the clashes.

“We are capable of dealing with [the more-militant situation],” Assad, dressed in a blue suit, told Syrian TV.

The European Union was expected as early as Tuesday to ban imports of Syrian oil, one of the government’s central sources of revenue. An estimated 90 percent of Syria’s 385,000 barrels a day went to the EU in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Also Sunday, former Syrian ally Turkey held a meeting with Syrian opposition groups attempting to create a national transitional council similar to the body Libyan rebels formed to represent the Libyan people and the Libyan state in that country’s uprising.

The Libyan council eventually won international recognition, but Syria’s nascent opposition movement has struggled to gain momentum and structure.

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