Assad Regime Must End All Violence Against Civilians, U.S. Official Says

Comment by State Department spokesman comes amid reports that Syrian security forces killed 41 civilians near the central city of Homs.

Syria must end all violence against civilians, a top U.S. official said on Wednesday, adding that a recent release of hundreds of political prisoners by by President Bashar Assad's regime did not "go far enough."

On Tuesday, Assad issued a general amnesty, after 10 weeks of protests against his 11-year rule and a military crackdown which has drawn international condemnation.

Bashar Assad

The amnesty covers "all members of political movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood", the television said. Membership of the Brotherhood, which led an armed uprising against Assad's father in 1982, is punishable by death in Syria.

However, speaking a day later, State Department Deputy spokesman Mark Toner said that the "release of some political prisoners is not all political prisoners."

"We need to see all political prisoners released, and we need to see an end to the violence that Syrian forces have been continually carrying out against civilian populations," Toner said, adding that Washington needed "to see a meaningful movement towards reform and an effort to engage the opposition in a meaningful way and listen to their concerns and attempt to address them."

The U.S. official added that the "gesture of releasing a hundred or so political prisoners doesn't go far enough, and I think that the Syrian people would feel that way."

There's been a steady ratcheting up of sanctions, there's been an effort to address it in the UN Security Council. It's been referred to the Human Rights Commission. And I think that if we don't see any movement, we'll continue to look at ways and to consult with our international partners on how we can apply additional pressure."

Toner's comments came amid reports on Wednesday of large numbers of civilian death in a town near the central city of Homs.

A Syrian human rights lawyer said that Assad forces killed 41 civilians in the central town of Rastan on Tuesday during a military operation to crush pro-democracy protests, Razan Zaitounar.

The death toll included a four year old girl, Zaitouna told Reuters by telephone from Damascus. Government forces surrounded the town on Sunday and shelled it during the Tuesday operation, she said, adding that activists on the ground had a list consisting of 41 dead civilians.