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The Mideast

Syrian Troops Kill 7 After UN Team Visit

Syrian security forces killed at least seven people in the restive central city of Homs soon after a U.N. humanitarian assessment team left the area because the security situation was deteriorating, activists said Tuesday.

Monday's bloodshed came as the overall death toll from President Bashar Assad's crackdown on the 5-month-old uprising in Syria reached 2,200, the United Nations said.

The U.N.'s top human rights body voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to demand that Syria end its crackdown and cooperate with an international probe into possible crimes against humanity.

The U.N. assessment team had been advised to leave Homs for security reasons when "a protest situation developed," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday in New York.

"The mission did not come under fire," he said.

Syria has banned foreign media and severely restricted local coverage, making it nearly impossible to confirm events on the ground. Amateur videos posted by activists online showed crowds of people thronging cars with the blue U.N. flag, flashing banners that read: "We will never stop until we get our freedom."

The protesters chanted for freedom and the downfall of the regime.

Syria granted a U.N. team permission to visit some of the centers of the protests and crackdown to assess humanitarian needs, but activists and a Western diplomat have accused the regime of trying to scrub away signs of the crackdown.

Residents and activists said it was quiet until the team left, after which troops opened fire on an anti-government protest, killing four. Gunmen also killed three others elsewhere in Homs, which has become a hotbed of dissent against Assad.

The Local Coordination Committees and the London-based Observatory for Human Rights, two activist groups with a wide network of sources on the ground, reported that security forces stormed several villages in the southern and northern parts of the country, arresting scores on Tuesday.

Assad, who has tried in vain to crush the revolt, blames the unrest on Islamic extremists and thugs.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday criticized Assad for failing to halt a military crackdown on dissent despite a pledge he made to the U.N. chief by phone on Wednesday that all military and security operations would end.

"It is troubling that he has not kept his word," the U.N. chief told reporters in New York.

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