GCC calls for end to violence in Syria

The Gulf Cooperation Council urged an end to bloodshed in Syria and called for political reforms, as international pressure mounted on Damascus.

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RIYADH // The Gulf Cooperation Council yesterday urged an end to bloodshed in Syria and called for political reforms, as international pressure mounted on Damascus.

The Gulf states appealed for an "immediate end to violence … and bloodshed" and urged a "resort to wisdom and serious and necessary reforms that would protect the rights and dignity of the people, and meet their aspirations".

The GCC expressed concern over the "mounting violence and the excessive use of force which resulted in killing and wounding large numbers".

It was the organisation's first concerted statement on Syria since a popular uprising began five months ago, and followed a unilateral expression of concern from Kuwait on Friday.

The United Nations, the United States, France and Germany have also taken an increasingly tough line in the past few days, amid reports that Syrian security forces have killed hundreds of civilians in the besieged city of Hama, the focal point of the uprising, where the military tightened its grip again yesterday.

Protesters calling for the removal of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, took over the city of 800,000 a week ago and barricaded it against regime forces.

Tanks shelled Hama on Friday night, causing several casualties, and there were reports that a hospital was hit in the bombardment, said one resident who sneaked out of Hama on Friday to try and get supplies. "I am trying to get back but it's impossible. They've tightened the siege even more. Not even an ant can go in or out," he told the Associated Press yesterday.

Authorities have imposed a media blackout on Hama and the reports could not be immediately confirmed. Electricity, internet and phone lines in the city have been cut for seven days, and residents have reported food and medical supplies dwindling, amid frequent shelling and raids.

Rights group say at least 100 people have been killed, while some estimates put the number as high as 250.

Syria's government broadcast images of buildings and rubble-strewn streets in Hama, and said the military was putting an end to a rebellion by terrorists.

Elsewhere in Syria, tens of thousands of protesters marching in other cities on Friday were met by gunfire from troops. Activists said yesterday 24 people were killed.