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Scores of bodies in Homs, activists say

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:22 AM EDT, Sat November 5, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 126 bodies taken to hospital in Homs, doctor says
  • Opposition groups say security forces killed 21 civilians Friday
  • Security forces surrounded mosques and deployed snipers, groups report
  • The fighting comes two days after Syria said it would pull troops from the streets

(CNN) -- A total of 126 unidentified bodies were taken during the past three days to Al-Watani Hospital in Homs, Syria, a doctor there told CNN.

The trauma physician did not want to be identified out of fear of retribution by government forces, who were at the hospital.

Eight of the bodies were burnt, he said Saturday, adding that the deaths have not been reported in the state-run news media.

The doctor's report was largely supported by Saleem Kabbani, a member of the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, an opposition group that organizes and documents protests. Kabbani, who has provided CNN with reliable information in the past, cited three sources as having told him that approximately 100 unidentified bodies had been taken to the hospital in recent days.

Kabbani said his sources included a person who was involved in the transport of the bodies; a witness who saw the bodies in the location where they were found; and a witness inside the hospital.

He would not say where the bodies were found out of fear that doing so could lead to sectarian violence.

CNN could not independently verify the account.

Kabbani said shelling was occurring early Saturday in various towns in Homs province, including Bab Amr, Jourat Al-Arayess and Karm Al-Zaitoun.

He added that an unannounced curfew occurs daily in Homs -- signaled by heavy gunfire from army checkpoints and snipers in the heart of the city.

He described the humanitarian situation in Bab Amr as dire, citing the lack of water, electricity and telephone lines.

The deaths in Homs were separate from the killing by security forces of 21 civilians, Syrian opposition activists reported on Friday.

Nine of the deaths reported Friday came in Homs, seven in Kanaker, two in Hama, two in Daraa and one in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, according to the Local Coordinating Committees.

The reports came as a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said that Syria's government has broken its pledge to stop its violent crackdown on demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

"We have a long, deep history of broken promises by the Assad regime," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, "and we seem to have that streak unbroken here -- or broken again."

The Syrian government pledged Wednesday to the Arab League that it would pull back its forces, release prisoners and allow outside monitors into the country, but opposition activists said security forces fanned out in force after Friday prayers, surrounding mosques to prevent demonstrations and using gunfire to disperse crowds.

The violence is the latest in a nearly eight-month uprising that began with calls for elections and an end to abuses by security forces but morphed into widespread and persistent calls for al-Assad's ouster as the government's crackdown on demonstrations intensified.

The LCC said Friday that 3,834 people have died in Syria since anti-government protests erupted in March, amid the Arab Spring movements that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Assad and other Syrian officials have blamed violence on outside forces attempting to undermine the 40-year rule of the president's family.

On Friday, forces surrounded the Abu Bakr mosque in Baniyas, assaulting some people as they left and trapping hundred of others inside to prevent them from protesting, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Forces also spread out near the Fattahi mosque in Latakia, according to the Local Coordinating Committees.

Explosions shook a Daraa neighborhood, and forces used gunfire to disperse protesters in Deir Ezzor, the human rights group said, while the Local Coordinating Committees said demonstrators marched in Hasakeh and Hama. Government snipers also were deployed around the commercial market and mosques, the Local Coordinating Committees said.

Meanwhile, Syria's official news agency SANA reported that 13 soldiers and police officers were killed fighting "armed terrorist groups" in Hama, Homs and Idlib and that four were wounded in a gunfight in Kanaker. SANA said police killed one of the gunmen in what appeared to be the same clash reported by the Syrian Observatory as a firefight between Syrian government loyalists and defectors from the armed forces. It was unclear whether that death was included in the Local Coordinating Committees toll.

The agency also said engineers dismantled two remote-controlled bombs in Deir Ezzor.

CNN cannot independently verify the reports from either side, because Syria limits access for international news organizations.

The Interior Ministry said Friday that Syrians who turn in their weapons would receive amnesty so long as they have not killed anyone, according to State TV, but the U.S. State Department advised against being tempted by the offer.

"I wouldn't advise anybody to turn themselves in to regime authorities at the moment," Nuland said.

Nuland said the Syrian government has failed to live up to its obligations, including previous amnesty offers.

Friday's violence came a day after opposition groups said government forces killed at least 25 civilians nationwide and rounded up anti-government protesters and two days after the government agreed to an Arab League plan to bring an end to the crisis.

The government agreed to pull its army off the streets, release people jailed since the protests began in March and allow international journalists and Arab League observers to monitor the moves, Arab League ministers announced Wednesday.

The regional organization will moderate a "national dialogue" after two weeks, the ministers said.

Syria has made previous pledges to withdraw armed forces from civilian areas. But in some of those cases, it withdrew only armored units and left infantry in place, or returned after a brief pullout. Anti-government activists criticized those steps as efforts by al-Assad's regime to buy time. It also has made other moves aimed at defusing the protests, including plans to draft a new constitution, but they have failed to appease the demonstrators.

CNN's Roba Alhenawi, Arwa Damon, Hamdi Alkhshali, Salma Abdelaziz, Jill Dougherty and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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