Syria criticized ahead of Arab summit

Group says crackdown left hundreds dead

BEIRUT – Human Rights Watch on Friday accused the Syrian government of crimes against humanity during its crackdown on opponents in the central region of Homs, a focal point of the rebellion against the government of President Bashar Assad.

In a 63-page report released Friday, the New York-based rights group accused Syrian security forces of unprovoked attacks against civilians in the country’s third-largest city.

During the more than four-month period covered by the report, from mid-April until the end of August, Human Rights Watch said, Syrian forces killed at least 587 civilians in the Homs region, the highest number of casualties in any province.

The Arab League is scheduled to meet in Cairo today about the crisis in Syria, which has been wracked by unrest for almost eight months. Human Rights Watch urged the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership and impose an arms embargo and sanctions against “individuals responsible for the violations.”

The group also called on the Arab League to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of human rights violators.

“Homs is a microcosm of the Syrian government’s brutality,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch. “The Arab League needs to tell President Assad that violating their agreement has consequences, and that it now supports Security Council action to end the carnage.”

Arab ministers have voiced concern that Syria may be violating terms of a league-brokered peace pact that calls for the government to withdraw forces from populated areas and initiate dialogue with the opposition.

There was no immediate response Friday from the Syrian government. Syria has blamed the violence on armed “terrorists.”

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