Image: Woman stroll past posters in Syria
Muzaffar Salman  /  AP
Women stroll past posters depicting Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Oct. 17. Syrian security forces clashed Monday with gunmen believed to be army defectors, and at least five government troops were killed, an activist said.
updated 10/17/2011 2:14:38 PM ET 2011-10-17T18:14:38

A major activist group on Monday accused Syrian security forces of stepping up their crackdown on doctors suspected of treating wounded anti-government protesters.

The Local Coordination Committees, which helps organize the protests and documents human rights violations in Syria, said that it had documented the arrests of 25 doctors and pharmacists from private clinics and hospitals in the past few weeks.

The group said 250 doctors and pharmacists have been arrested since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad seven months ago.

The accusation that Syria is targeting doctors and raiding hospitals in search of wounded protesters has been made before by leading international human rights groups. Last month, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Syrian security forces "forcibly removed" patients from a hospital and prevented doctors from reaching the wounded during a military siege in the restive central city of Homs.

The group cited testimony from witnesses, including doctors.

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In August, the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights released a report also accusing Syrian authorities of targeting medical facilities, health workers and their patients. It said security forces control access to hospitals, and many injured civilians in need of critical care are forgoing treatment because they fear being detained and tortured if they seek care at government-controlled medical facilities.

There have been other reports of security forces targeting hospitals and rounding up the wounded in Syria and in Bahrain, where there were widespread protests this year led by the country's Shiite majority against the long-ruling Sunni monarchy.

Doctors and nurses who treated protesters during rallies in Bahrain were rounded up in a subsequent crackdown that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of activists.

"The Syrian regime has recently intensified its campaign targeting doctors and hospitals and private clinics suspected of treating wounded in pro-freedom demonstrations," said the statement issued by the LCC Monday.

It said hospitals in many cases were not allowed to help the wounded in protests and were required to inform security forces of the arrival of wounded protesters, often leading to the patients' arrest.

Many were being forced to treat their injuries at home to avoid arrest, it said.

The Syrian government has banned foreign journalists and placed heavy restrictions on local media coverage, making it difficult to independently verify events on the ground. The U.N. says 3,000 people have already died in the government crackdown since mid-March.

In a continuing nationwide crackdown, activists said at least 12 civilians were killed in Homs Monday amid heavy gunfire during raids by security forces. The city has been a key focus of protests.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and LCC confirmed the casualties.

Syrian security forces also clashed Monday with gunmen believed to be army defectors, and at least five government troops were killed in the town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon, the Observatory said.

The fighting was the last in a series of small battles, mostly in the northwest of the country, which suggest that the uprising is becoming increasingly militarized.

To the north, troops also battled with suspected defectors in the town of Hass, where 17 people were wounded, according to the observatory.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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