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Two children among 42 killed by Syrian forces, activists say

Syrian military forces killed 42 people Wednesday, including a 10-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl, in raids on a string of towns around the central city of Homs as the government continued trying to crush a 3-month-old popular uprising against President Bashar Assad, human rights activists said.

Troops and tanks moved against the towns of Talbiseh, Teir Maaleh and Al-Rastan on Saturday after large antigovernment demonstrations on Friday, said Razan Zeitouneh, a rights activist whose organization, the Syrian Human Rights Information Link, collected the names of 42 people killed in Al-Rastan. Syrians reached by phone described widespread arrests of men and neighborhoods besieged by tanks and snipers.

Hajar al-Khateeb, 10, was killed when security forces opened fire on a school bus driving between Al-Rastan and Homs, and Marwa Shakhdo, 4, was shot dead when soldiers entered her family's home in Al-Rastan, Zeitouneh said.

Syrian state television said three soldiers had died in the operation, which it said was aimed at "armed terrorist groups."

At least 40 children have died in the uprising against Assad, whose family has ruled for four decades. The most infamous death was of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, 13, whose mutilated remains were recorded on a video posted online, transforming the young man into a symbol of the revolt and the government's unsparing, lethal crackdown. Activists said Hamza was arrested on April 29 at a protest in the southern town of Jiza.

The government offered an official version of Hamza's death on state television Wednesday, saying he was lured into attacking a military housing compound by armed men "inciting calls for Jihad" and died in the crossfire. It quoted a judge who said he had died "without any traces of torture," a statement at odds with what was shown in the video.

The state broadcaster, SANA, reported on its website that Hamza's father had discussed his son's death in a meeting with Assad, who SANA said the father described as "gentle and kind." Activists said that the father was detained by security forces last week after a video of his son's corpse appeared on YouTube.

CAIRO

Prosecutors set date

for Mubarak's trial

Facing growing pressure to prosecute former President Hosni Mubarak promptly, Egyptian prosecutors announced Wednesday that he will go on trial Aug. 3 for conspiring in the fatal shooting of protesters.

The setting of a trial date suggests that the country's interim military rulers want to show an increasingly restless public that they are making good on promised reforms.

Some people reacted to the news with skepticism, pointing to stalled cases of other prominent officials charged after the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak from office in February.

Mubarak, 83, who has been detained at a hospital in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh since early April, was charged last month with playing a role in the fatal shooting of demonstrators who took to the streets in late January.

The deposed leader could be sentenced to death if convicted in that case.

He and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, have also been charged in a separate case involving alleged illicit enrichment.

Benghazi, Libya

Car explodes in

rebels' stronghold

A car exploded Wednesday next to a hotel where foreign diplomats stay while visiting Benghazi, a rare attack in the Libyan rebels' de facto capital.

Jalal al-Gallal, a rebel spokesman, said the blast caused no injuries or deaths. The burning car sent plumes of black smoke into the air.

"It's a cowardly act," he said, adding that rebels assume it was carried out by elements of the regime of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

The regime took another blow Wednesday when Gadhafi's oil minister appeared in Rome and confirmed he had defected.

Rebels are insisting that Gadhafi must relinquish control of the government and leave the country with his sons.

manama, bahrain

Crackdowns resume

on peaceful protests

Hours after Bahrain officially ended 11 weeks of martial law Wednesday, security forces attacked peaceful protesters in more than 20 villages with rubber bullets, stun grenades, shotguns and tear gas, according to human rights observers in Bahrain.

The renewed crackdown came one day after King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa called for a national dialogue aimed at reconciliation, while also making it clear he would not tolerate public protests.

Bahrain's Shiite majority, inspired by the example of the Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators who brought down their authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, has pressed for greater rights and freedoms from the Sunni monarchy, which they said had long discriminated against Shiites in housing, education and employment.

Times wires

Two children among 42 killed by Syrian forces, activists say 06/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011 12:26am]

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