Death Toll Rises Sharply Amid Brutal Government Crackdown in Syria

U.S. Weighs Decision to Pull Out Syrian Ambassador

The death toll in the Syrian city of Hama where civilians continue to protest has risen sharply to more than 100 people over the last 24 hours, according to witnesses within the city speaking via satellite phones.

Word of these most recent attacks by the Syrian military forces came from human rights activists who reported the killings of more protesters as of late last evening, August 3.

The attacks are a continuation of the five-month crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to the pro-democracy demonstrations begun by the Syrian people in March. That brutal crackdown has garnered the condemnation of the U.N. in an official statement released August 3.

The international community has been obstructed from receiving full information regarding causalities, with foreign journalists and rights activists having been expelled from the country, and the Syrian government remaining tight-lipped about the details of the rebellions.

According to the Associated Press: “Syrian authorities kept the restive city of Hama in a blackout Thursday, cutting phone lines, Internet and electricity as part of a brutal, five-day-old crackdown on antigovernment dissent.”

The limited reports that have come from local Syrians on the ground have come at risk to their own lives, and only when they have been lucky enough to access restricted and limited internet and cellular signals.

The Local Coordination Committee, a local Syrian organization documenting the protests, has said that security forces were firing at residents trying to flee the city, and has expressed its concerns over the potential worsening of humanitarian conditions.

Abdul-Karim Rihawi, the Damascus-based chief of the Syrian Human Rights League, has said that there is no information coming out from Hama on Thursday.

Beyond attempts to keep details of their military assaults from the international community, the sharp rise in casualties over recent days are being viewed by many as a sign of the determination of President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government to continue its brutal crackdown.

Some have speculated that Syrian forces purposefully timed the invasion of Hama to coincide with the trial of Mubarak. Rami Abdel-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, responded when questioned that: “It’s obvious that they used the Mubarak trial to distract the public from the attack,” and “we might be witnessing another massacre in Hama.”

In the wake of Syria's brutal crackdown on protestors, Italy has recalled its ambassador from Damascus.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has also made a statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the U.S.’s own ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford,: “While I appreciate Ambassador Ford’s service and his criticism of the Assad dictatorship, the presence of any U.S. ambassador in Damascus has the net effect of legitimizing a regime that poses a serious threat to its own people and to U.S. national security, our interests, and our allies.”

Ros-Lehtinen has said, “Rather than continuing to send mixed signals to the regime in Damascus, the Administration should immediately implement the full range of sanctions under existing U.S. law, including by recalling our ambassador.”