25 killed in Syrian prison riot: rights group

July 13, 2008

NICOSIA (AFP) -- At least 25 inmates were shot dead by Syrian security forces during a riot in a jail for political prisoners in the mountains outside Damascus on Saturday, according to a human rights group.

""Islamist prisoners started a riot inside the prison this morning,"" the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement received in Nicosia, quoting a political prisoner in the Saydnaya jail contacted by mobile phone.
""Shooting is continuing against the prisoners,"" the London-based group said, adding that a number of inmates had climbed the roof of the military prison north of Damascus to escape the violence.
The Observatory said initially that the number of dead was 10 but a spokesman later telephoned AFP to say that the toll had risen to 25.
The group said it had received phone calls from relatives of prisoners asking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to intervene to stop the clashes in Saydnaya, an ancient town with several biblical connections.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian authorities.
The Saydnaya prison is one of the biggest in Syria and houses mainly Islamist political prisoners.
Syria has launched a crackdown against dissidents in recent months, drawing strong criticism from the West particularly since the arrests are being carried out under emergency laws in force since 1963.
At least 14 signatories of a December petition calling for radical democratic change in Syria have been rounded up, including former MP Riad Seif.
The prison riot comes just a week before Assad is due in Paris to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy on July 12, signaling a resumption of high-level contacts between Paris and Damascus.
Assad is among about 40 foreign leaders who will be in Paris for a July 13 summit that will see European countries come together with states in the Mediterranean region including Arab nations and Israel.