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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Syrian forces cleaning up blood from Latakia camp ahead of UN visit

From Ma'an:
Syrian forces scrambled Saturday to destroy evidence of last week's bloody crackdown in Latakia that killed dozens and sent Palestinian refugees fleeing, activists said as UN investigators arrived in Damascus.

Security forces were seen scrubbing blood off the streets and walls of al-Ramel refugee camp ahead of the cross-agency mission’s anticipated arrival in the port city.

The delegation was dispatched from Geneva in response to a damning report to the Security Council on Syrian leader Bashar Assad's "apparent shoot-to-kill" policy.

More than 60 civilians, mostly Palestinians, have died in Latakia since forces launched an offensive last Sunday, activists say.

On Saturday, regime officials brought television crews to one section of Latakia which had been opened to inspection, rights activists told Ma'an.

Prior to filming, security forces scrubbed off dried, days-old blood from the streets and planted flowers in a bid to present the area as a regular public space.

Assad's "killing machine can wash the blood off the streets but not off its hands," said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for colleagues in Syria.

"The evidence ... is overwhelming and undeniable," he said.

[T]he UN's delegation is not authorized to investigate allegations of war crimes and other serious abuses.

Its mandate is to evaluate humanitarian conditions and draw up plans for resuming public services in the coastal town and six more of the hardest-hit areas across Syria.

In Latakia, meanwhile, UN officials say about 7,500 residents of the refugee camp have not returned due to fears of new attacks. The UN refugee agency has tracked down 6,000 Palestinians who fled.

Many of those who remain missing have been locked into a sprawling stadium complex known as Latakia Sports City, activists say. As many as 4,000 people, mostly Palestinians, are believed to be held there.

Syrian rights advocate Ammar Abdulhamid says he is waiting to see if the prisoners will be moved from the stadium when the UN delegation arrives "because, right now, it is still full."