BEIRUT – Syrian security forces killed at least 20 protesters Friday despite promises by President Bashar Assad that the military operations against the 5-month-old uprising are over.
The killings, which came as thousands poured into the streets across Syria, suggest the autocratic leader is either unwilling to stop the violence – or not fully in control of his own regime.
Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, is facing the most serious international isolation of his rule. On Thursday, the United States and its European allies demanded he step down.
Military operations have subsided in the past few days, following a fresh crackdown on major flashpoint cities that started at the beginning of the month to root out anti-government protesters.
But persistent gunfire and shootings, along with Friday’s killings, underscore the difficulty of any kind of diplomatic pressure achieving results in the absence of any appetite for military intervention.
Human rights groups said Assad’s forces have killed nearly 2,000 people since the uprising erupted in mid-March. A high-level U.N. team recommended Thursday that the violence in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court over possible crimes against humanity.
“Bye, bye Bashar, see you in The Hague!” protesters shouted Friday in the central city of Homs as crowds filled the streets, spurred on by the international condemnation.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he has received reports of atrocities in Syria but has no jurisdiction “at this stage” to open an investigation because Damascus does not recognize the court.