Category: Syria


A demonstrator carries a banner during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in IstanbulDemonstrators march through the streets after Friday prayers in the Hajar Al Asswad in Damascushttp://beta.news.yahoo.com/syria-activists-meet-call-change-avert-crisis-123229039.html

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian activists called on Monday for sweeping political changes that could end 41 years of Assad family rule in a rare meeting in Damascus allowed by the authorities under pressure from a three-month popular uprising.

“The solution to this crisis has to address its root causes. This regime must be toppled and replaced with a democratic system,” said leading Syrian writer Michel Kilo, who spent three years as a political prisoner.

The meeting at a Damascus hotel includes noted critics of President Bashar al-Assad who are respected in opposition circles, as well as some supporters of Assad.

Organizers said the gathering had approval from a senior aide to Assad, who has sent troops to crush protests across the country while promising dialogue in an effort to contain an uprising for political freedoms that has posed the gravest threat to his rule since he succeeded his father 11 years ago.

Other speakers in the conference, attended by 150 people in a Damascus hotel, adopted a softer tone but said demands of street protesters after decades of autocratic rule must be met.

Syrian writer Louay Hussein, who was also a political prisoner, said repression in the last four decades have undermined Syria as a whole while emphasizing that peaceful means must be found to meet popular demands.

Hussein said the meeting would try to explore “ending the state of dictatorship, and a peaceful and safe transition into a desired country, one of freedom, justice and equality.”

Monther Khaddam, an academic from the coastal city of Latakia, said a wider national dialogue is needed but that intellectuals were “behind street demands until the end.”

Organizers of Monday’s conference described it as a platform for independent figures searching for a way out of the violence

Main opposition figures had said the meeting could give political cover to Assad, with human rights groups saying that security forces have killed over 1,300 civilians and imprisoned 12,000 since the uprising began in southern Syria.

Economist Aref Dalila, a major figure behind the gathering, pulled out at the last minute, saying that he did not want to participate in a conference that could be used by the authorities while mass killing and arrests continue.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis)

Syrian forces head for second northern protest town

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110613/wl_nm/us_syria

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis        Khaled Yacoub Oweis–    6 mins ago

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian troops pushed toward the northern town of Maarat al-Numaan on the Damascus-Aleppo highway after rounding up hundreds of people in a sweep through villages near Jisr al-Shughour, fleeing residents said.

Late on Monday witnesses said troops and armored vehicles had reached the village of Ahtam, 14 km (nine miles) from Maarat al-Numaan where there have been large protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Thousands of residents of Jisr al-Shughour fled to Turkey, some 20 km away, before the army retook the rebellious town on Sunday, the latest step in its drive to crush spreading demands for political reform that pose an unprecedented challenge to Assad’s 11-year rule.

The government says the three-month-old protests are part of a violent conspiracy backed by foreign powers to sow sectarian strife. Syria has banned most foreign correspondents, making it difficult to verify accounts of events.

In measures witnessed in other cities and towns besieged by troops and tanks after protests, fleeing refugees said members of the security forces and Alawite gunmen loyal to Assad, known as ‘shabbiha’ broke into houses and shops in Jisr al-Shughour.

The authorities said 120 security personnel were killed there last week by “armed groups.” Residents and deserting soldiers said those killed were civilians and security personnel who had been killed for refusing to shoot protesters.

Nearly 7,000 Syrians have sought sanctuary in neighbouring Turkey, which has set up four refugee camps for them. Thousands more are living rough in rural areas just inside Syria, where hours of thunderstorms and drenching rain produced miserable conditions.

Syrian rights groups say 1,300 civilians have been killed since the start of the uprising. One group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says more than 300 soldiers and police have also been killed.

Assad, who inherited power when his father died in 2000, has offered some concessions aimed at appeasing protesters, lifting a 48-year state of emergency and promising a national dialogue, but many activists have dismissed those steps.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at Argentina’s Foreign Ministry on Monday, said the Syrian government had responded with “horrific attacks” to people’s desire for change and the situation was “very worrisome.”

“I again urge President Assad to allow humanitarian access to affected areas and to allow a Human Rights Council-mandated assessment mission, which on two occasions I have urged him to accept.”

In New York, France’s U.N. envoy appealed to skeptical Brazil on Monday to support a European draft resolution that would condemn Syria for its bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

Brazil, like India and South Africa, has expressed reservations about the draft resolution prepared by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal. Russia and China have suggested they might veto the text.

The result, U.N. diplomats said, is a deadlock on the 15-nation Security Council. It remains unclear when, and if, the Europeans will put the draft resolution to a vote.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson in Guvecci, Turkey; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Tim Pearce)

 

Thousands protest across Syria; at least 1 killed

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110513/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Zeina Karam, Associated Press 56 mins ago

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters Friday, killing at least one person with a gunshot to the head as soldiers tried to head off demonstrations by occupying mosques and blocking public squares, activists said.

The death in the central city of Homs marks the latest bloodshed in what has become a weekly rhythm during the two-month uprising, with protesters taking to the streets every Friday, only to be met with bullets, tear gas and batons by security forces.

Leading human rights activist Mazen Darwish said Friday’s victim was shot in the head. A second activist in Homs put the death toll at two.

“At first they opened fire in the air but the people continued their way, and then they shot directly into the crowd,” the second activist said, asking that his name not be used for fear of reprisals from the government.

He said security forces dressed in black and pro-regime gunmen known as “shabiha” were doing the shooting.

Human rights groups say that between 700 and 850 people have been killed since the start of the revolt against President Bashar Assad’s repressive regime.

Thousands in Syria have persevered with the demonstrations, turning up in huge numbers on Fridays despite one of the most brutal crackdowns since a wave of popular uprisings began sweeping the Arab world. This Friday, three rallies were held in Damascus — the largest number of protests held at one time in the capital.

Security forces fired tear gas in the capital’s Zahra neighborhood, forcing scores of people to disperse. In nearby Mazzeh, protesters ran away when security forces arrived. In Muhajereen, security forces used batons to scatter dozens of people, activists said.

Assad has come under scathing criticism for the crackdown, with the United States and Europe imposing sanctions.

In several key areas, residents said Syrian soldiers occupied mosques and blocked off major public areas Friday to prevent people from leaving their homes.

“The army has transformed major mosques in the city into military barracks where soldiers sleep, eat and drink,” said a resident in the coastal town of Banias. “They’ve put up barriers and sandbags around the mosques.”

Up to 1,200 security forces have deployed in the public square in the center of town, and soldiers and armed thugs have broken into shops, offices and homes to intimidate people.

“It is tragic in every sense of the word,” he said.

There is a media blackout in Syria, making it impossible to confirm witness accounts independently. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their personal safety.

Other protests were around the northeastern city of Qamishli, where about 5,000 people marched in the streets chanting “Freedom!” and “Freedom to political prisoners!” said rights activist Mustafa Osso.

Thousands also were demonstrating in the nearby towns of Amouda and Derbasiyeh, he said.

Some shots were fired, but the protesters did not disperse for long, he added.

The government’s bloody crackdown has increased in intensity in recent days.

The army shelled residential areas in central and southern Syria on Wednesday, killing 19 people, a human rights group said.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton slammed the Syrian government’s assault on demonstrators and said the violence indicates that Assad is weak, though she stopped short of saying he must quit.

“Treating one’s own people in this way is in fact a sign of remarkable weakness,” Clinton said during a trip to Greenland.

The revolt was touched off in mid-March by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall. Since then, the protests have spread nationwide and the death toll already has exceeded those seen during the uprisings in Yemen and Tunisia.

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AP writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.

Report: Syrian troops shelling residential areas

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110511/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Zeina Karam, Associated Press 22 mins ago

BEIRUT – The Syrian army shelled residential areas in the country’s third-largest city Wednesday, sending people fleeing for cover in a sharp escalation in the government’s attempts to crush a popular revolt against President Bashar Assad’s autocratic rule, according to activists and witnesses.

Heavy tank- and gunfire rocked at least three residential neighborhoods in the besieged city of Homs, which has seen some of the largest anti-government demonstrations during the seven-week-long uprising.

“There were loud explosions and gunfire from automatic rifles throughout the night and until this morning,” a resident told The Associated Press by telephone, asking that his name not be used for fear of government reprisals. “The area is totally besieged. We are being shelled.”

More than 750 people have been killed in a crackdown on the unrest and thousands of Syrians have been detained, with about 9,000 still in custody, said Ammar Qurabi, who heads the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

Syrian authorities are determined to crush the uprising, despite rising international pressure against it. Assad has dispatched army troops backed by tanks to Homs and other communities across the country, saying soldiers and security forces are rooting out “armed terrorist groups” and thugs he says are behind the violence.

Assad has announced a series of reforms, widely viewed as symbolic overtures to appease protesters since the movement began in the southern city of Daraa in mid-March and quickly spread nationwide.

On Wednesday, he was quoted by Syria’s private Al-Watan newspaper urging Syrians to cooperate with the government so that the reform process may continue. He also pledged a swift solution to the issue of detainees who were jailed during the unrest.

Wednesday’s shelling targeted the Bab Sbaa, Bab Amr and Jouret el Aris neighborhoods, according to activists in Damascus who were in touch with residents in Homs. The city also is home to one of Syria’s two oil refineries.

Syrian television quoted a military official as saying that soldiers and security forces were pursuing “armed terrorist groups” and arrested tens of fugitives and seized large quantities of weapons.

The official, who was not identified, said two soldiers were killed and five wounded during confrontations Wednesday.

Germany, meanwhile, said several European countries were summoning Syrian ambassadors and threatening new sanctions targeting the country’s leadership if it doesn’t halt the repression of protesters.

The European Union already has decided to impose sanctions on 13 Syrian officials, prohibiting them from traveling anywhere in the 27-nation bloc. But the first round of sanctions doesn’t target Assad himself.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said European officials will make clear that “a second package that also includes the Syrian leadership” will follow if Syria does not immediately change course.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also urged Syria Wednesday to allow an international aid assessment team to enter Daraa. He told reporters in Geneva he is disappointed the assessment team “has not yet been given the access it needs.”

Ban added he had been assured by Assad that the team would be allowed into the city.

Despite the government crackdown, small demonstrations and candlelight vigils were reported in several areas in the past few days.

Activists said three protesters were killed late Tuesday when government forces fired on demonstrations in Jassem, one of a cluster of villages near Daraa.

In the coastal city of Banias, where the army has also sent soldiers and tanks and arrested hundreds as part of military operation, rights activists said electricity, water and communications have been restored.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said authorities also released some 300 people Tuesday after making them sign a pledge not to state protests. But he said an army tank was still deployed in the city’s main square were protests were held in past weeks.

Abdul-Rahman said at least seven civilians, including four women, were killed during military operations in the city.

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Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

UN to send teams to Syria as 6 die in clashes

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110506/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Bassem Mroue, Associated Press 12 mins ago

SOFIA, Bulgaria – United Nation’s chief says Syria has agreed to allow U.N. teams to go into the country and check the humanitarian situation there.

Ban Ki-moon spoke in Bulgaria Friday, as Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters Friday, killing at least six people as thousands joined demonstrations across the country calling for an end to President Bashar Assad’s regime, witnesses and activists said.

Ban said Assad agreed to allow U.N. humanitarian teams during a phone call.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters Friday, killing at least six people as thousands joined demonstrations across the country calling for an end to President Bashar Assad’s regime, witnesses and activists said.

Syrian authorities also detained Riad Seif, a leading opposition figure and former lawmaker who has been an outspoken critic of the regime during the seven-week uprising, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Five people were killed in the central city of Homs and one was killed in Hama, said a senior member of a human rights group that compiles death toll figures in Syria.

Like most activists and witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals by the government.

“We were chanting, peaceful, peaceful, and we didn’t even throw a stone at the security forces,” said a witness in Homs. “But they waited for us to reach the main square and then they opened fire on us.”

From Hama, footage posted on YouTube showed protesters frantically trying to resuscitate a man lying on the ground with a bloodied face and shirt, while people shouted “God is great!”

The protesters turned out Friday despite a bloody crackdown on the uprising. More than 565 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since the revolt began in March, according to rights groups.

Rallies were held in major areas including the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs, the central city of Homs, Banias on the coast and Qamishli in the northeast.

“The people want to topple the regime!” protesters shouted, echoing the cries heard during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

Witnesses also reported some of the tightest security seen since the protests began in mid-March. In the Damascus suburb of Douma, scene of intense protests over recent weeks, security forces cordoned off the area to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.

A witness near Douma said he saw a train carrying about 15 army tanks heading north Thursday evening toward the central province of Homs, another site of recent violence.

Another activist in Damascus said hundreds of people marched in the central neighborhood of Midan. In Banias, witnesses said more than 5,000 people carrying olive branches and Syrian flags also were calling for regime change.

They were among several demonstrations and marches planned for Friday, the main day of protests in the Arab world, for what activists were calling a “Day of Defiance.”

More than 565 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since an anti-regime uprising, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, began in March, according to rights groups.

The activists said security forces set up checkpoints and closed some areas that experienced protests in recent weeks.

In the southern city of Daraa, where the army announced the end to an 11-day military operation Thursday, residents said troops were still in the streets, causing some would-be demonstrators to be wary of taking part in a planned protest Friday.

“There’s a tank stationed at each corner in Daraa. There is no way people can hold a protest today,” a resident said by telephone. “It means more killing. Daraa is taking a break. We don’t want to see more killing or face tank guns.”

The activists spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said a medical team reached Daraa on Thursday with trucks carrying humanitarian goods and medical supplies. The ICRC’s head of delegation in Damascus, Marianne Gasser, said helping people in Daraa is a priority “because it is the city that has been hardest hit by the ongoing violence.”

The ICRC had appealed to Syrian authorities earlier in the week to allow it to access to Daraa after being unable to reach the city previously while it was under siege by security forces.

Assad is determined to crush the revolt that has now become the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year dynasty. He has tried a combination of brute force, intimidation and promises of reform to quell the unrest, but his attempts have failed so far.

Security forces have repeatedly opened fire on protesters during rallies around the country in the past week and last Friday at least 65 people were killed, according to rights groups.

The mounting death toll — and the siege in Daraa — has only served to embolden protesters who are now demanding nothing less than the end of Assad’s regime. There also has been growing international condemnation of the government’s tactics.

Syria blames the unrest on a foreign conspiracy and “terrorist groups” that it says have taken advantage of protests.

The uprising in Syria was sparked by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Daraa. Protests spread quickly across the nation of some 23 million people.

Assad inherited power from his father in 2000.

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Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Beirut and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Bassem Mroue can be reached at http://twitter.com/bmroue

Syria’s Assad facing dissent over Deraa crackdown

Protesters are seen holding placards during a demonstration in Douma townhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_syria

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis Khaled Yacoub Oweis 35 mins ago

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced rare dissent within his Baath Party and signs of discontent in the army over violent repression of protesters that a rights group said on Thursday had killed 500 people.

Two hundred members of the ruling party from southern Syria resigned on Wednesday after the government sent in tanks to crush resistance in the city of Deraa, where a six-week-old uprising against Assad’s authoritarian rule erupted.

Diplomats said signs were also emerging of differences within the army where the majority of troops are Sunni Muslims, but most officers belong to Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

The Baath Party says it has more than a million members in Syria, making Wednesday’s resignations more a symbolic than a real challenge to Assad’s 11-year rule.

But along with the resignations last week of two Deraa parliamentarians, they would have been unthinkable before nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations flared last month.

Syria’s banned Muslim Brotherhood called on Syrians to take to the streets to demand freedom ahead of the main Friday prayers, while the Interior Ministry said citizens must not demonstrate without a license in order to protect “the security stability of the homeland.”

In a declaration sent to Reuters, the Brotherhood said: “Do not let the regime besiege your compatriots. Chant with one voice for freedom and dignity. Do not allow the tyrant to enslave you. God is great.”

It was the first time that the Brotherhood, whose leadership is in exile, had called directly for demonstrations in Syria since pro-democracy demonstrations against Assad’s autocratic rule erupted six weeks ago.

Criticism of Assad has intensified since 100 people were killed in protests last week and tanks rolled into Deraa. The United States says it is considering tightening sanctions and European governments will discuss Syria on Friday.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called on Thursday for international sanctions on Syria over the crackdown and said the United Nations should send a special envoy to investigate the killings.

But a European push for the U.N. Security Council to condemn the crackdown was blocked by Russia, China and Lebanon. China said on Thursday that Damascus should resolve its problems through talks, while Russia said Syrian authorities should bring to justice those responsible for the killings.

One diplomat said soldiers had confronted secret police at least once this month to stop them shooting at protesters.

“No one is saying that Assad is about to lose control of the army, but once you start using the army to slaughter your own people, it is a sign of weakness,” he said.

“The largest funerals in Syria so far have been for soldiers who have refused to obey orders to shoot protesters and were summarily executed on the spot,” another diplomat said.

The upheaval could have major regional repercussions since Syria straddles the fault lines of the Middle East conflict.

Assad has bolstered an anti-Israel alliance with Shi’ite Iran and both countries back the Hezbollah and Hamas militant groups, although Syria still seeks peace with the Jewish state.

CLASH NEAR LEBANON BORDER

Syria has blamed armed Islamist groups for the killings and accused politicians in neighboring Lebanon of fomenting violence, allegations they have denied.

Around 1,500 Syrian women and children crossed into northern Lebanon on Thursday, witnesses said, fleeing gunfire in the Syrian border town of Tel Kelakh. It was not clear how many people were hurt in the clash but Lebanese security sources said the army had stepped up patrols in the area.

Assad sent the ultra-loyal Fourth Mechanized Division, commanded by his brother Maher, into Deraa on Monday.

Reports from opposition figures and Deraa residents, which could not be confirmed, said that several soldiers from another unit had refused to fire on civilians.

The official state news agency denied the reports.

Gunfire was heard in Deraa on Wednesday night. Water, electricity and communications remained cut and essential supplies were running low, residents said.

Rights campaigners reported shooting and arrests on Thursday in Zabadani, about 35 km (20 miles) southwest of Damascus.

The Syrian rights group Sawasiah said the death toll in six weeks of protests had risen to at least 500.

“We call on civilized governments to take action to stop the bloodbath in Syria and to rein in the Syrian regime and halt its murders, torture, sieges and arrests. We have the names of at least 500 confirmed killed,” Sawasiah said in a statement. “The shelling of Deraa is a crime against humanity.”

Turkey’s intelligence chief met Assad on Thursday as part of a delegation sent to Damascus to suggest reforms to help end the uprising. Assad lifted Syria’s 48-year state of emergency a week ago, but opposition figures said the death of 100 people in protests the next day made a mockery of his move.

Syria has been dominated by the Assad family since Bashar’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, took power in a 1970 coup. The younger Assad kept intact the autocratic political system he inherited in 2000 while the family expanded its control over the country’s struggling economy.

Assad’s decision to storm Deraa echoed his father’s 1982 attack on the city of Hama to crush a revolt led by the Muslim Brotherhood, killing anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi, Writing by Dominic Evans, Editing by Jon Boyle)

Syrian troops storm Deraa, where uprising erupted

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110425/wl_nm/us_syria

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Suleiman al-Khalidi Khaled Yacoub Oweis And Suleiman Al-khalidi 1 hr 17 mins ago

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian troops and tanks stormed Deraa on Monday, residents said, seeking to crush resistance in the city where a month-long uprising against the autocratic 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad first erupted.

A witness told Reuters he saw bodies in the street after hundreds of soldiers in armored vehicles poured into Deraa, a few miles from Syria’s southern border with Jordan which officials said was sealed off on Monday.

A leading human rights campaigner said security forces, which also swept into the restive Damascus suburb of Douma, were waging “a savage war designed to annihilate Syria’s democrats.”

Rights groups say security forces have killed more than 350 civilians since unrest broke out in Deraa on March 18. A third of the victims were shot in the past three days as the scale and breadth of a popular revolt against Assad grew.

Assad lifted Syria’s 48-year state of emergency on Thursday but activists say the violence the following day, when 100 people were killed during protests across the country, showed he was not serious about addressing calls for political freedom.

Monday appeared to be the first time the authorities have sent tanks into population centers since the protests began.

The raids on Deraa and Douma suggested that Assad, who assumed power when his father died in 2000 after ruling Syria with an iron fist for 30 years, was determined to crush the opposition by force.

The witness in Deraa told Reuters he could see bodies lying in a main street near the Omari mosque after eight tanks and two armored vehicles deployed in the old quarter of the city.

“People are taking cover in homes. I could see two bodies near the mosque and no one was able to go out and drag them away,” the witness said.

Snipers were posted on government buildings, and security forces in army fatigues had been shooting at random at houses since the tanks moved in just after dawn prayers.

Tanks at the main entry points to Deraa also shelled targets in the city, a resident named Mohsen told Al Jazeera, which showed a cloud of black smoke hanging over buildings. “People can’t move from one street to another because of the shelling.”

Two residents told Jazeera they had seen soldiers firing on their own side, apparently to allow people to drag the wounded from the street. The reports could not be confirmed.

Foreign journalists have mostly been expelled from the country, making it impossible to verify the situation on the ground. Grisly footage posted on the Internet by demonstrators in recent days appears to show troops firing on unarmed crowds. Officials have blamed armed groups for the violence.

“OUTRAGEOUS VIOLENCE”

Assad has deepened his father Hafez al-Assad’s alliance with Iran, clawed back influence in Lebanon and backed Hezbollah and Hamas militants, but he has kept Syria’s front line with Israel quiet and held indirect peace talks with the Jewish state.

Western criticism of the crackdown was initially muted, partly because of fears that a collapse of his minority Alawite rule in the majority Sunni country might lead to sectarian conflict. But on Friday President Barack Obama urged Assad to stop the “outrageous use of violence to quell protests.”

Suhair al-Attasi, a leading Syrian human rights campaigner, said authorities had launched “a savage war designed to annihilate Syria’s democrats.

“President Assad’s intentions have been clear since he came out publicly saying he is ‘prepared for war’,” Atassi said, referring to a March 31 speech to parliament.

Writers from all Syria’s main sects issued a declaration denouncing the crackdown and urging intellectuals “who have not broken the barrier of fear to make a clear stand.

“We condemn the violent, oppressive practices of the Syrian regime against the protesters and mourn the martyrs of the uprising,” said Monday’s declaration, signed by 102 writers and journalists, in Syria and in exile.

As well as the crackdown in Deraa and Douma, activists said troops and gunmen loyal to Assad had shot dead at least 13 civilians since they swept into the Mediterranean town of Jabla on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

The forces deployed in the old Sunni quarter of Jabla after a pro-democracy protest and a warning by the governor of the province against any public assembly, rights campaigners said.

A wave of arrests since Friday’s demonstrations continued on Monday, the SOHR said, saying more people had been detained in the provinces of Idlib, Deir al-Zor and Raqqa.

Activists said they feared Assad’s forces also were preparing for an attack on the town of Nawa, north of Deraa, after reports of bulldozers and military vehicles heading there. Thousands of people called for the overthrow of Assad on Sunday at a funeral in Nawa for protesters killed by security forces.

“Long live Syria. Down with Bashar!” mourners chanted at the funeral. “Leave, leave! The people want the overthrow of the regime.”

(Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi in Cairo and Mahmoud Habboush in Dubai; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Paul Taylor)

Syrian forces fire live rounds at mass funerals

Protesters gather in a square in the southern city of Deraahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110423/wl_nm/us_syria_protests

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Suleiman al-Khalidi Khaled Yacoub Oweis And Suleiman Al-khalidi 1 hr 38 mins ago

AMMAN (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Syrians demanded the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday at funerals for scores of people killed by security forces in the country’s bloodiest pro-democracy protests, witnesses said.

Security forces opened fire at one of the funerals, in the Damascus suburb of Douma, wounding three people, witnesses there said.

They also fired on people seeking to join mass funerals in the southern village of Izra’a, where witnesses said at least 12 funerals were taking place, with mourners chanting “Bashar al-Assad, you traitor! Long live Syria, down with Bashar!”

“There was heavy volley of gunfire in our direction as we approached Izra’a to join the funerals of martyrs,” one witness from the southern city of Deraa who came to attend the burials in Izra’a told Reuters.

Two activists said on Saturday at least 100 people were killed during Friday’s protests. A group of activists coordinating the demonstrations had said previously that regular forces and gunman loyal to Assad shot dead at least 88 civilians on Friday.

The demonstrators were killed in areas stretching from the port city of Latakia to Homs, Hama, Damascus and the southern village of Izra’a, it said.

Friday was by far the bloodiest day in more than a month of demonstrations demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption in the country of 20 million people.

Damascus was tense on Saturday and many people stayed indoors, an activist told Reuters from the capital.

“We are worried that during the funerals more blood will be spilled which will provoke more protests and more death,” he said.

“This is becoming like a snowball and getting bigger and bigger every week. Anger is rising, the street is boiling.”

CONDEMNATION

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Friday’s violence and accused Assad of seeking help from Iran.

“This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now,” Obama said in a statement. “Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens….”

France’s Foreign Ministry said Paris was “deeply concerned.”

“Syrian authorities must give up the use of violence against their citizens. We again call on them to commit without delay to an inclusive political dialogue and to achieve the reforms legitimately demanded by the Syrian people.”

Those killed were among tens of thousands of people who have taken to the streets of cities and rural areas across Syria calling for political reform, demands which have hardened over recent weeks.

ACTIVISTS DEMAND WIDER REFORMS

Friday’s protests went ahead despite Assad’s decision this week to lift the country’s hated emergency law, in place since his Baath Party seized power 48 years ago.

A statement by the Local Coordination Committees said the end of emergency law was futile without the release of thousands of political prisoners — most held without trial — and the dismantling of the security apparatus.

In their first joint statement since the protests erupted last month, the activists said the abolition of the Baath Party’s monopoly on power and the establishment of a democratic political system was central to ending repression in Syria.

Aided by his family and a pervasive security apparatus, Assad, 45, has absolute power, having ignored demands to transform the anachronistic autocratic system he inherited when he succeeded his late father, President Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.

Friday’s violence brings the death toll to more than 300, according to rights activists, since the unrest which broke out on March 18 in the southern city of Deraa.

Protests swept the country on Friday, from the Mediterranean city of Banias to the eastern cities of Deir al-Zor and Qamishli. In Damascus, security forces fired teargas to disperse 2,000 protesters in the district of Midan.

Amnesty International said Syrian authorities “have again responded to peaceful calls for change with bullets and batons.”

“They must immediately halt their attacks on peaceful protesters and instead allow Syrians to gather freely as international law demands,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.

Syrian television said eight people were killed and 28 wounded, including army personnel, in attacks by armed groups in Izra’a. It said an armed group had attacked a military base in the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Syrian security forces open fire at demonstrators

In this image made on a mobile phone, a Syrian man sits inside a bus as he looks through the window at  a military truck carrying Syrian soldiers, inhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110422/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Bassem Mroue, Associated Press 47 mins ago

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces fired live bullets and tear gas Friday at tens of thousands of people shouting for freedom and democracy, wounding about 10 people on a day that could be a major test of whether President Bashar Assad’s promises of sweeping reform will quell the monthlong uprising.

Protesters flooded into the streets after prayers Friday in at least five major areas across the country.

“The people want the downfall of the regime!” shouted protesters in Douma, a Damascus suburb where some 40,000 people took to the streets, witnesses said. It is the same rallying cry that was heard during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

Security forces opened fire in Douma and in the central city of Homs, according to eyewitnesses. At least four people were wounded in Douma and seven in Homs, the witnesses said.

Other massive protests were reported in the coastal city of Banias, the northeastern Kurdish region and the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising kicked off more than a month ago.

The protest movement has crossed a significant threshold in recent days, with increasing numbers now seeking the downfall of the regime, not just reforms. The security crackdown has only emboldened protesters, who are enraged over the deaths of more than 200 people over five weeks.

Friday’s witness accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has expelled journalists and restricted access to trouble spots. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Activists promised that Friday’s protests will be the biggest rallies yet against the regime led by Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago in one of the most authoritarian countries in the Middle East.

The president has been trying to defuse the protests by launching a bloody crackdown along with a series of concessions, most recently lifting emergency laws that gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest.

He also has fulfilled a decades-old demand by granting citizenship to thousands among Syria’s long-ostracized Kurdish minority, fired local officials, released detainees and formed a new government.

But many protesters said the concessions have come too late — and that Assad does not deserve the credit.

“The state of emergency was brought down, not lifted,” prominent Syrian activist Suhair Atassi, who was arrested several times in the past, wrote on her Twitter page. “It is a victory as a result of demonstrations, protests and the blood of martyrs who called for Syria’s freedom.”

Earlier Friday, witnesses said security forces in uniform and plainclothes set up checkpoints around the Damascus suburb of Douma, checking peoples identity cards and preventing nonresidents from going in.

Syria stands in the middle of the most volatile conflicts in region because of its alliances with militant groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and with Shiite powerhouse Iran. That has given Damascus a pivotal role in most of the flashpoint issues of the region, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran’s widening influence.

If the regime in Syria wobbles, it also throws into disarray the U.S. push for engagement with Damascus, part of Washington’s plan to peel the country away from its allegiance to Hamas, Hezbollah and Tehran.

Syria lifts emergency laws but warns protesters

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110419/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Zeina Karam, Associated Press 12 mins ago

BEIRUT – Syria’s government approved lifting the country’s nearly 50-year-old state of emergency Tuesday to meet a key demand of anti-government protesters, but also issued a stern warning to demonstrators to call off their challenges to President Bashar Assad’s hard-line rule.

The mixed messages — just hours after security forces stormed an occupied square in Syria’s third-largest city — leave ample doubt about whether authorities will ease their increasingly harsh blows against the month-old protests. Assad’s regime has labeled the protest movement as an “armed insurrection” that could give them the cover to continue the crackdown.

Assad last week had told his cabinet to remove the state of emergency — in place since his Baath Party took power in March 1963 — but added that such a move would give protesters no more reason to take to the streets. This could give Assad further pretext to move against any further marches or rallies.

Syria’s official news agency SANA said the cabinet also approved abolishing the state security court, which handled the trials of political prisoners, and approved a new law allowing the right to peaceful protests. The changes need parliament approval, but no objections are expected at its next session planned for May 2.

Most of Syria’s 23 million people were born or grew up under the strict control of the state of emergency that, among other things, puts strict control on the media, allows eavesdropping on telecommunications and permits arrests without warrants from judicial authorities.

The regime had claimed the reason for the emergency rule is because of the technical state of war with archenemy Israel, but rights groups and others say it was mostly used to as the backbone of the authoritarian system.

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