Syrian legal chief quits regime over death toll

The attorney-general of Hama said in a video statement that 320 prisoners in the town had died under torture and that 420 protesters were buried in the public park

The Syrian government has suffered its first defection after the chief legal officer in Hama – which spent most of August under siege from government troops – resigned in protest at the number of deaths in the town.

In a video statement, Adnan Bakkour, the attorney-general of the Hama governorate, said he had evidence of crimes against humanity perpetrated by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. He claimed to know of more than 70 executions and hundreds of cases of torture.

Unlike in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi saw several high-level defections in the early stages of the uprising, the Syrian administration has stayed committed to President Assad. This has continued despite calls from the US for him to stand down and the withdrawal of several Arab ambassadors.

In his video posting, Mr Bakkour blamed "Assad and his gangs" for the killing of 72 prisoners – mostly peaceful political activists – in Hama's central prison on 31 July. He alleged that 420 victims of the crackdown had been buried by pro-government militia in the city's public park and that a further 320 had died under torture.

Mr Bakkour said that the Syrian army had destroyed houses in some neighbourhoods – especially in the Al-Hamidiyah and Koosor districts – and dead bodies remained rotting inside.

The official Sana press agency in Damascus said that the statement contained "lies about completely false practices", and that Mr Bakkour had been forced to make the statement by "terrorist groups", which, it said, had forced the former official to lie at gunpoint. The regime said that the video was "another dirty game by Al Jazeera".

The veracity of claims has been impossible to verify since the Syrian government's decision to ban foreign media from entering the country.

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