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Posts Tagged ‘Hafez al-Assad’

Syrian troops move on restive town, West alarmed

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110607/wl_nm/us_syria

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis 1 hr 4 mins ago

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian troops with tanks moved on Tuesday toward a town where the government has vowed to quell a revolt after accusing gunmen of killing scores of security men.

Though accounts of days of bloodshed in Jisr al-Shughour ranged from an official version of gunmen ambushing troops to residents’ reports of an army mutiny, the risk seemed to be growing of even greater violence than that which has left over 1,100 Syrians dead since popular unrest began three months ago.

France took a lead in proposing U.N. moves against President Bashar al-Assad. But Russia, citing NATO’s inconclusive war on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, said it would veto intervention against Syria in the United Nations Security Council.

Despite enthusiasm for pro-democracy movements that have unseated dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, few Western leaders — let alone their autocratic Arab partners — have shown a will to intervene in Syria, an Iranian ally whose volatile mix of ethnic and religious groups sits astride a web of regional conflicts.

Assad’s family and supporters from the minority Alawite sect have dominated Syria since his late father seized power 41 years ago. He has responded with promises of reform, and a security crackdown on protesters in towns across the country.

The government has expelled independent journalists, making it hard to determine clearly what is happening in the country.

DIPLOMATIC MOVES

Tuesday, local residents said a column of armoured vehicles and troops, apparently heading for Jisr al-Shughour, had reached the town of Ariha, 25 km (16 miles) to the east, a day after Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said army units would carry out their “national duty to restore security.”

Western powers have raised the alarm. British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament: “President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside.” He said European governments were looking at further sanctions.

For France, Britain’s ally in the air war against Gaddafi and the former colonial power in Syria, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris was ready to ask the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria: “The process of reform is dead and we think that Bashar has lost his legitimacy to rule the country.

“We’ll see what the Russians will do. If they veto, they will take their responsibility. Maybe if they see that there are 11 votes in favor of the resolution, they will change their mind. So there is a risk to take and we’re ready to take it.”

The United States has also said Assad should reform or go.

But in Brussels, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said: “The prospect of a U.N. Security Council resolution that’s along the same lines as Resolution 1973 on Libya will not be supported by my country … The use of force, as Libya shows, does not provide answers.”

Veto-holding Russia abstained on the Libya vote, allowing NATO to begin a bombing campaign that Western powers say saved civilians in rebel-held Benghazi from an onslaught by Gaddafi’s forces, but which has failed to dislodge the Libyan leader.

Just what has happened in Jisr al-Shughour, which lies in the northeast close to the Turkish border, remains unclear.

Official accounts say gunmen roaming the town and setting fire to government buildings had inflicted an extremely high death toll of over 120 on security men, said to have been killed in an ambush and attacks on a post office and a security post.

State television aired footage of at least five dead soldiers and police who it said were victims of an “ambush by armed gangs.” Voices are heard in the video cursing the dead men and describing how they were killed.

“I stabbed them, I stabbed the three of them,” said a man who was not seen on camera.

But residents and anti-government activists disputed the government account, saying the casualties followed a mutiny among forces sent to quell civilian protests. Assad loyalists and mutineers then fought each other around the town, they said.

Other footage posted on You Tube showed bodies of at least three soldiers and voices off camera say they were killed by fellow-security force members for refusing to fire on civilians.

PAST VIOLENCE

Fears of a sharp increase in the level of violence are informed by memories of 1982, when the forces of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, crushed an armed Islamist revolt in the city of Hama, killing many thousands and razing the town’s old center.

Jisr al-Shughour residents said violence began when scores of civilians were killed in a crackdown on the hill town on a road between Syria’s second city Aleppo and the port of Latakia.

They said security men had raided homes and made scores of arbitrary arrests after the largest pro-democracy protest yet held in the town, Friday. At least five people were killed.

The killings enraged the townsfolk and prompted defections from security police and troops belonging, like most people in Jisr al-Shugour, to Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, they said. Assad and many of his army and security commanders are Alawites.

Neighboring countries, including Israel and Turkey, worry about any chaos that could set off sectarian conflict and the emergence of violent, radical Islamists, as happened in nearby Iraq after the U.S. invasion of 2003.

“Military intelligence agents and security police stormed the town Monday. Snipers began firing at people who dared go out in the streets. Bodies lay in the streets. Around 100 police and soldiers defected and stood with us,” one resident said by phone, adding that six military intelligence agents were killed.

He said pro-Assad Alawite gunmen from neighboring villages, known as ‘shabbiha’, had been seen around Jisr al-Shughour.

Many analysts with close contacts on the ground inside Syria were reluctant to be identified when interviewed. One analyst based in Damascus said violence by security forces, who are also detaining and torturing people, was creating a violent backlash.

“Growing numbers of protesters have been pushed to take up arms, which are also being smuggled into the country at an alarming pace,” said the analyst, who works for an international organization.

The Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah said the 120 people killed were mostly civilians, or troops apparently shot dead by security agents who refused to join in the crackdown.

“The authorities are repeating their pattern of killings. They choose the town or city where demonstrations have been most vibrant and punish the population,” a Sawasiah spokesman said.

ARMY MUTINY?

Wissam Tarif, director of human rights organization Insan, said the fighting pitted rival army units against each other.

“An army unit or division arrived in the area in the morning. It seems then another unit arrived to contain the mutiny,” Tarif told Reuters. He said he had spoken to several people in Jisr al-Shughour who confirmed that account.

A Western diplomat in the region said he took the mutiny reports seriously, although he had no first-hand knowledge of events in Jisr al-Shughour. “It is plausible that the violent response to the protesters is causing widening cracks on sectarian lines within the army,” he said.

Rights groups say security forces, troops and gunmen loyal to Assad have killed 1,100 civilians since protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa on March 18. Unrest later spread to the Mediterranean coast and eastern Kurdish regions.

Assad has made some reformist gestures, such as issuing a general amnesty to political prisoners and launching a national dialogue, but protesters and opposition figures have dismissed such measures, saying thousands of political prisoners remain in jail and there can be no dialogue while repression continues.

Another resident, a history teacher who gave his name as Ahmed, said clashes had begun Saturday when snipers on the roof of the post office fired at a funeral for six protesters killed the day before. Mourners then set the post office ablaze.

State television said eight members of the security forces were killed when gunmen attacked the post office building.

It said at least 20 more were killed in an ambush by “armed gangs,” and 82 in an attack on a security post. It said the overall death toll for security forces topped 120.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny and Yara Bayoumy in Beirut; editing by Alistair Lyon and Alastair Macdonald)

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Syrian tanks reach city where crackdown killed 65

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110604/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria;_ylt=ApEOPeh1TMz.kgBFSZUnVGFvaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTJldDZ1cWZlBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwNjA0L21sX3N5cmlhBHBvcwMxMQRzZWMDeW5fYXJ0aWNsZV9zdW1tYXJ5X2xpc3QEc2xrA3N5cmlhbnRhbmtzcg–

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press 27 mins ago

BEIRUT – Syrian tanks rolled toward a tense central city mourning the deaths of dozens of protesters, reaching the outskirts late Saturday hours after a funeral procession through streets lined with shuttered shops and uniformed security forces, witnesses said.

The government lifted its stranglehold on the Internet, which has been key to motivating people to join the 11-week uprising, but the crackdown that has left over 1,200 dead since March did not relent: Troops killed at least six protesters in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, according to the Local Coordination Committees, which helps organize and document the protests calling for an end to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Syria‘s state-run news agency, SANA, said “armed criminal groups” attacked several police stations in Jisr al-Shughour, killing two policeman. It said the attackers captured weapons from the stations. The Syrian government blames armed gangs and religious extremists for the violence.

More than 70 protesters were killed across Syria on Friday, in what appeared to be among the largest demonstrations yet in the country. At least 65 of those were in Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The tanks at the entrance to Hama caused new alarm. The city rose up against Assad’s father in 1982, only to be crushed by a three-week bombing campaign that killed thousands, memories of those days are still raw.

“Dozens of tanks are reaching the southern outskirts of the city,” said an activist who lives in a nearby town. “They will probably lay a siege then storm Hama.”

A Hama resident confirmed tanks reached the outskirts of the city. He said he had not yet seen them, but others had.

“May God protect us,” the man said, his voice shaking.

The Local Coordination Committees says at least 1,270 people have been killed and more than 10,000 arrested since the uprising began in March.

The move toward Hama could mean that the army is preparing for a major operation there, similar to offensives in other areas in the past weeks such as the southern city of Daraa, the coastal city of Banias and the central town of Rastan where operations are still under way.

After noon prayers — and before the arrival of the tanks — tens of thousands of people streamed out of mosques carrying coffins of the dead and headed toward the two main cemeteries, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the rights group’s director.

As they marched in the streets carrying the coffins, the protesters chanted “our souls, our blood we sacrifice to you martyr.” They later passed by hundreds of uniformed security members guarding a statue of the late President Hafez Assad, the father and predecessor of the current president, at the southern entrance of the city, witnesses said.

Some of the dead where from nearby villages and were taken for burial in their hometowns, they said.

The witnesses said that in addition to the tight security near the statue, hundreds of security agents guarded the local office of the ruling Baath party and the nearby police headquarters. But there was no overt friction between protesters and the troops.

Residents said most shops in Hama were closed since the morning to protest the shootings.

“People are in a state of shock,” a resident, who like many in Syria spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.

The Syrian government has severely restricted the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify what is happening there.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said authorities released a leading opposition figure Saturday. Ali Abdullah of the Damascus Declaration Group had been jailed since 2007 and was among hundreds of political prisoners freed this week after Assad issued a general amnesty.

Assad also created a committee that he said would pave the way for a national dialogue, hoping the concessions would satisfy the revolt, which is posing the most serious challenge to the Assad family‘s 40-year rule. What began as a disparate movement demanding reforms has grown into a resilient uprising seeking Assad’s ouster.

Assad has invited officials from 12 outlawed Kurdish parties to meet him, said Mohammed Moussa of the Kurdish Leftist Party, whose group was invited. He said the meeting is expected in the coming days.

Such a move would have been unthinkable only a few months ago. Assad granted citizenship two months ago to stateless Kurds in eastern Syria — aimed at addressing protesters’ grievances.

About 1.5 million of Syria’s 22 million people are Kurds. Syria’s Kurdish minority has long complained of discrimination.

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Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals as Emergency Law Lifted

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2011

http://www.truth-out.org/tension-and-grief-syria-after-protests-and-deadly-reprisals68789

Saturday 26 March 2011

by: Michael Slackman and Liam Stack, The New York Times News Service | Report

 

Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals as Emergency Law Lifted
President Bashar al-Assad called Sunday for the United States to use its influence to revive negotiations between his country and Israel. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

Cairo – Violence continued to plague Syria this weekend, as government forces killed more demonstrators in Latakia, protesters burned offices of the ruling party in the south and west, and mourners throughout the country buried the dozens of unarmed protesters killed a day earlier.

President Bashar al-Assad of the ruling Baath Party began the day in what appeared to be a gesture intended to ease the crisis, when he announced the release of as many as 200 political prisoners. But by sunset, Baath Party offices were burning in at least two cities, the military was deployed in Latakia and once again government forces opened fire with live rounds, witnesses said.

After more than a week of protests and human rights groups confirming that 61 people had been killed by government forces, there appeared to be no clear path forward for protesters, who had erupted in angry demonstrations around the country on Friday, or for the government, which has offered words of compromise at the same time that it has unleashed lethal force.

“People are afraid,” said a prominent religious leader from a community at the center of the conflicts, who was not identified to protect him from reprisal. “People are afraid that the events might get bigger. They are afraid there might be more protests.”

Exact numbers of the dead are hard to determine, as the official government news service denied the authorities’ culpability in new reports blaming criminal gangs. By nightfall, government officials were blaming a sectarian clash for the crisis, which was quickly dismissed by protest supporters, who said the goal was freedom for all Syrians and an end to authoritarian rule.

The protesters, according to the religious leader, want “freedom and their rights; they were making demands from the government for things to get better here and for an end to the state of emergency.”

The day broke over a landscape of grief as mourners set out for funerals in the southern towns of Sanamayn and Dara’a, in Latakia, in the central city of Homs and in the suburbs of Damascus. In each place, demonstrators had been killed hours earlier, shot by government forces in the most violent government oppression since 1982, when the leadership killed at least 10,000 people in the northern city of Hama.

But the mourning soon gave way to another surge of demonstrations, and then violence. At least two demonstrators in Latakia were killed after protesters set fire to the local headquarters of the Baath Party. Ammar Qurabi, the chairman of the National Association for Human Rights, said two witnesses reported seeing Syrian Special Forces open fire into a crowd.

One Latakia resident reached by telephone said 10,000 to 15,000 antigovernment protesters from the city and surrounding villages, some armed with knives, machetes and clubs, had taken to the streets. “The demonstrations have been peaceful, “ the resident said, “but after the violence yesterday protesters brought weapons.”

In the southern village of Tafas, near the protest movement’s epicenter in Dara’a, mourners also set fire to the local Baath headquarters.

Pro-government demonstrators were also out in Damascus, where about 200 people drove around the city on Saturday evening in a convoy of cars, trucks and minibuses. They carried portraits of President Assad and his father, former President Hafez al-Assad, and chanted, “We are national unity” and “With our soul and with our blood, we will redeem you, Bashar.”

A government spokeswoman, Buthaina Shaaban, denied to BBC Arabic that government forces had opened fire on protesters, blaming instead foreigners and an armed group of villagers. “We arrested outsiders in Syria charged with opening fire on the crowd,” she said. “They stole weapons. The authorities did not shoot protesters, but an armed group from Sanamayn” did.

Protests have taken place around Syria since the start of the tumultuous movement for change that has shaken the Arab world with peaceful protest and conflicts approaching civil war. But the political crisis blew wide open about a week ago when demonstrators took to the streets in Dara’a after the police arrested a group of young people for scrawling antigovernment graffiti, hauling them away without notifying their parents.

Syria is a resource-poor nation with great strategic influence in the region because of its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and its location bordering Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. But it also struggles with a fragile sense of national unity amid sectarian tensions between its rulers, all members of the minority Alawite religious sect, and a Sunni majority. It also clings to a pan-Arab Baathist ideology.

“The events are developing and succeeding each other rapidly all over Syria,” Abdel Majid Manjouni, assistant chairman of the Socialist Democratic Arab Union Party in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, said in a telephone interview. “They are going from city to city, and the ruling party is not being successful in its attempt to block the protests or the demands for democratic change in the country.”

The Syrian crisis has in many ways followed a course similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt, which ended with the resignation of each country’s president.

In Syria, there have been no widespread calls for President Assad’s departure, though as the anger mounts in the wake of protesters’ deaths, that view has started to gain voice.

“I am calling him to go to the television,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a childhood friend of the president’s now living in the United Arab Emirates. “The people still respect him. First, he must deliver his condolences face to face to the people. No. 2, he must say there will be a multiple party system, a free parliamentary election in two months from now.”

Mr. Qurabi, the chairman of the human rights group, said that more than two dozen protesters were killed Friday, including 20 in the tiny southern village of Sanamayn, 4 in Latakia, 3 in Homs and 3 in the greater Damascus area. Mr. Qurabi blamed live ammunition for all those deaths on Friday.

“The protest in Sanamayn was very, very, very big,” Mr. Qurabi said in a phone call from Cairo, where he is attending a conference. “They killed them in the streets because there is not even really a square for the people to protest in.”

People in Syria were far more reluctant to speak, including one young man who said he had been detained by the police for three days after talking to the news media. “I was talking about the news of the protest with some reporters,” he said in a phone call to Damascus. “The police came for me at about 11:15 on Tuesday morning and took me off the street in front of my house. My phone calls are monitored, and I don’t want to say anything over the phone.”

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

This article “Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals” originally appeared at The New York Times.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

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