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Rights group: 8 babies die after power cut to Syrian hospital

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Violence, protests continue in Syria
  • NEW: U.S. ambassador: Syria "tells all kinds of lies"
  • NEW: 29 people were killed Sunday, an opposition network says
  • NEW: The Arab League calls on Syrian to stop violence immediately
  • Syria complains the Gulf council "completely ignored" facts when it called for end to violence
  • Syria
  • Bashar Assad
  • Ban Ki-moon

(CNN) -- A Syrian human rights group says eight premature infants dependent on incubators died after authorities cut power to a hospital in the embattled city of Hama as part of a renewed crackdown on anti-government demonstrators calling for an end to President Bashar al-Assad's reign.

The babies died at Hurani Hospital in the northwest Syrian city on Wednesday, Rami Abdul-Rahman, president of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Sunday. Abdul-Rahman cited information provided by a hospital employee who fled the city on Saturday.

CNN cannot independently verify the account. The Syrian government could not immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. Ambassador to Syria cautioned against believing anything the government says about the violence taking place in the country. "The Syrian television, operated by the state, operated by the dictatorship, is not credible and tells all kinds of lies," Robert Ford said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" that aired Sunday.

Meanwhile, reports surfaced that Syrian troops rolled into the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor with tanks and bulldozers and stormed the western town of Hula early Sunday morning.

Four civilians were killed in two neighborhoods in Deir Ezzor after Syrian troops raided, according to Abdul-Rahman, who confirmed the names of the deceased with sources on the ground.

The Local Coordination Committee -- a network of activists -- said 29 people were killed Sunday. Twelve were in Homs province, six were in Idlib, and 11 were in Deir Ezzor.

Kuwait and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, a union of countries located on the Arabian Peninsula, called Sunday for an end to the violence in Syria.

In a written statement, the council called on Syria "to put an end to the bloodshed and resort to wisdom, and make serious reforms necessary." Kuwait's Foreign Ministry, in a separate statement to state-run news agency KUNA, demanded Syria "initiate real reforms that meet the legitimate needs of the Syrian people."

Syria rejected the council's statement. State-run news agency SANA, citing a Syrian official, reported that the government received the statement "with regret." The council "completely ignored the information and facts presented by Syria on the killing and sabotage acts committed by armed terrorist groups seeking to undermine the homeland's sovereignty and security," the SANA report said.

Throughout the Syrian uprising, government officials have repeatedly referred to some protesters as "armed terrorists" and "gangs."

SANA's source complained that the council's statement "disregarded the package of reforms announced by President Bashar al-Assad in his speech on June 20th, 2011, in which the president stressed the paramount importance of national dialogue to solve the current situation."

Pope Benedict XVI added his voice Sunday to the calls for an end to bloodshed.

"I renew to the Syrian authorities and population a pressing appeal for the re-establishment as soon as possible of living together peacefully," as well as an "adequate response to the legitimate aspirations of the citizens, respecting their dignity and for the benefit of the region's stability," the pontiff said, according to a CNN translation.

The pope said he was "following with strong concern the dramatic and growing episodes of violence in Syria, which have provoked numerous victims and grave suffering. I invite the Catholic faithful to pray so that the reconciliation efforts prevail over divisions and rancour."

The Arab League issued a statement calling on Syrian authorities "to stop immediately all acts of violence and security campaigns against civilians and to speed up in executing reforms."

General Secretary Nabil al-Arabi "expressed his growing concern and strong disturbance from the deterioration in the security situation in Syria because of the increase in violence and the military campaign in Hama, Deir Ezzor" and other areas, the statement said, adding that Al-Arabi called on Syria to establish an independent judicial team to investigate violence and violations of human rights.

International pressure has been growing on Assad to put an end to the violence. On Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Assad to halt the use of force against civilians "immediately."

Ban spoke to the Syrian leader by phone to express "his strong concern and that of the international community at the mounting violence and death toll" in the country over the past week, according to a U.N. readout of the conversation.

The conversation took place after anti-government protests erupted Friday across the country, the latest round of demonstrations calling for reforms.

Ford, the ambassador who recently visited Hama -- sparking anger by the Syrian government -- told ABC, "Literally, dozens of people have been killed in the last week. I'm personally very nervous about the fate of some of the people I met. I fear that they're either now under arrest or maybe dead,"

"The Syrian government does not tell the truth," he said.

"They said there were armed gangs in Hama. Well, the only weapon I saw was a slingshot."

He said Syrians told him that they did not want American military intervention.

The interview was taped Thursday in Washington before Ford returned to Syria.

The United States has previously announced sanctions against the Syrian regime. "We are looking at additional

unilateral measures, but also measures that we can work with partners to get the Syrian government to stop shooting protesters, to release political prisoners, and to stop these arrest campaigns," Ford said.

The protests began months ago in the southern city of Daraa and were swiftly suppressed by Syrian forces. Anti-government fervor caught on nationwide as more protests were met with tougher crackdowns.

Over the weekend, clashes between Syrian forces and demonstrators were reported in a number of cities, including Daraa, witnesses said.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, heavy gunfire was heard in the suburb of Nahr Aysha where security forces were trying to disperse thousands of demonstrators, the witnesses said.

Syrian forces also shelled Hama, said a resident whose identity is being withheld by CNN for security reasons.

More than 50 people were killed when a tank positioned 150 meters (164 yards) from Hurani Hospital launched an artillery shell that landed in front of the building, two witnesses told CNN. One witness said he counted 53 bodies; the other said 58.

The shelling incident occurred the same week Syrian authorities allegedly cut the power to the same hospital.

One opposition activist estimated 300 people have died in fighting in Hama in the past six days.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 2,000 people, primarily demonstrators, have died in the months-long unrest.

Syria's foreign minister announced plans Saturday to hold parliamentary elections by the end of the year, the state-run news agency reported.

Walid Moallem told Arab and foreign ambassadors that the country's leadership is committed to move ahead with reforms and provide free and fair elections for the country, SANA reported.

Moallem said Syria is intent on fostering security, stopping vandalism, and pursuing democracy and progress, SANA reported.

CNN's Kamal Ghattas and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

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