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At least 59 dead in latest Syrian attacks

BEIRUT -- Syrian troops fired on mourners at a funeral and raided an eastern city yesterday, killing at least 59 people in the intensifying government crackdown on protesters. More than 300 people have died in a week, the bloodiest in the five-month uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad.

For the first time yesterday, Syria's Arab neighbors forcefully joined the growing international chorus of condemnation against Assad's regime. Even Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, whose country does not tolerate dissent and lent its military troops to repress anti-government protests in neighboring Bahrain, harshly criticized the Syrian government. He also said he was recalling his ambassador in Damascus for consultations.

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia . . . demands an end to the death machine and bloodshed and calls for acts of wisdom before it is too late," Abdullah said in a statement.

The 22-member Arab League, silent since the uprising began, said yesterday it is "alarmed" by the situation and called for the immediate halt of all violence.

Not all the latest victims were killed by bullets or tank shells: In the besieged city of Hama, where the government has cut off electricity and communications, a rights group said eight babies died because their incubators lost power.

Yesterday's worst violence was in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, where at least 42 people were reportedly killed.

"The city was bombed by all types of heavy weapons and machine gun fire before troops started entering," an activist in the city said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "Humanitarian conditions in the city are very bad because it has been under siege for nine days. There is lack of medicine, baby formula, food and gasoline. The city is totally paralyzed."

The government's crackdown on mostly peaceful, unarmed protesters demanding political reforms and an end to the Assad family's 40-year rule has left more than 1,700 dead since March, according to activists and human rights groups. Assad's regime disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest.

The crackdown intensified a week ago on the eve of Ramadan, the holy month in which many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, then eat festive meals and gather in mosques for special nightly prayers. The government has been trying to prevent the large mosque gatherings from turning into more anti-government protests.

After sunset yesterday, thousands of people poured into the streets in towns and cities, including Damascus and its suburbs, the village of Dael in the south, the central city of Homs, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and the northern city of Aleppo, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activists' group tracking the Syrian uprising. Shootings were reported, but no immediate word on casualties.

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