Several killed in Latakia “bloodbath,” NGO says

A London-based rights group close to the Muslim Brotherhood said Thursday 25 people were killed by security forces in Latakia, northwest of the country, in a "bloodbath."

"The security forces of the Syrian regime in the city of Latakia are committing a massacre... in which more than 25 peaceful citizens have been killed," said the Syrian Human Rights Committee, in reference to violence in the multi-confessional port city Wednesday.

The rights monitor "called upon the international community to work to stop the bloodbath taking place in Latakia, and to stop all massacres being committed by the security forces and militia men of the Syrian regime."

The group, which has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, held the "Syrian regime and Syrian President [Bashar al-Assad] completely responsible for every drop of blood spilt in Latakia and in other Syrian cities."

The statement came one day after Assad gave a highly-anticipated speech in which he accused Syria's enemies of a "conspiracy" targeting national unity and but did not announce the end of emergency rule, in place since 1963, as was widely expected.

Meanwhile, a political activist in Latakia contacted by phone said several had been wounded and killed on Wednesday, but the exact numbers remained unclear.

"There were dozens wounded but the exact number of casualties is unknown. We estimate around four or five but that remains to be confirmed," he said.

He said demonstrators briefly abandoned the streets on Wednesday to listen to Assad's speech, the first since protests erupted two weeks ago in Syria, and came under fire.

"They were not happy with the speech so they came out in large numbers and were shot at," he said.

"We hope the perpetrators who fired against unarmed civilians will be arrested and tried. All of Latakia is against sectarian divisions and against those who opened fire," he added.

Issam Khoury, a Latakia-based journalist, told AFP "gunfire was heard in the southern quarter of Sleibi" and a witness said security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators angered by the president's address.

City residents also reported a drive-by shooting at a sit-in, where protesters had raised banners reading: "No to strife, yes to peace and freedom."

None of the reports could be independently confirmed.

State television reported gunfire by armed men without adding details.

Syrian troops have deployed in force to Latakia, a religiously diverse port city 350 kilometers north-west of Damascus, that has been one of two main flashpoints in two weeks of increasingly violent protests.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon