Tag Archive: Beirut


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.

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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

Libyan forces battle rebels on Tunisian border

Libyan soldiers loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi are seen in the city of Tarhounahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_libya

By Lin Noueihed and Abdelaziz Boumzar Lin Noueihed And Abdelaziz Boumzar 1 hr 40 mins ago

TRIPOLI/DEHIBA, Tunisia (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi battled rebels on Thursday for control of a border crossing into Tunisia, provoking an angry protest from Tunis as fighting spilled on to its territory.

Early in the day Gaddafi’s troops stormed the Dehiba-Wazin crossing on Libya’s western frontier, in what appeared to be part of a broader government offensive to root out rebel outposts beyond their eastern heartland.

Tunisia strongly condemned incursions by government forces, when Libyan artillery shells also struck the Tunisian side of the crossing, and demanded that the Libyans put a stop to them.

“Given the gravity of what has happened … the Tunisian authorities have informed the Libyans of their extreme indignation and demand measures to put an immediate stop to these violations,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

Rebels rapidly staged a counter-offensive for the border post they took only a week ago, and which controls the sole supply road for rebels in Libya’s Western Mountains.

Both sides in the civil war, where Gaddafi is fighting to prolong more than four decades of rule over the oil-producing nation, also disputed whether government forces had overrun a remote desert town in the southeast of the country.

After weeks of advances and retreats by rebel and government forces along the Mediterranean coast, fighting has settled into a pattern of clashes and skirmishes.

Nowhere was the fog of war thicker than at Dehiba-Wazin crossing.

“Fighting broke out on Tunisian territory, in Dehiba, after Gaddafi’s forces attacked the border crossing,” said Ali, a Tunisian involved in helping Libyans arriving in Dehiba, adding that the rebels had withdrawn into Tunisia.

Gaddafi’s soldiers apologized to their Tunisian counterparts for the incursion and hoisted their flag at the border, tearing down a pre-Gaddafi era flag that had fluttered for a few days.

Libyan state television said some rebels had been killed and others taken prisoner in the recapture of the border post.

The counter-attack came rapidly. “The rebels in the mountains are firing at the Libyan positions,” said Reuters cameraman Abdelaziz Boumzar.

Rebel Akram el Muradi said the battle was going the rebels’ way. “Gaddafi’s forces are going out and leaving, the Libyan freedom fighters are chasing them,” he said.

However, he admitted that the battle was not over and Boumzar, who was watching the fighting from Tunisian territory, said government soldiers were still at the post.

“BALL IN NATO’S COURT”

In the confusion, scores of vehicles headed for the border from the Tunisian side with civilians on board shouting “We’ve won! We’ve won!” but they made a swift turn back when they found Gaddafi’s forces were still there.

Loss of the crossing would cut off rebels in the Western Mountains from their only road to the outside world, making them rely on rough tracks for supplies of food, fuel and medicine.

Government troops again shelled the besieged rebel outpost of Misrata, where aid ships bring in emergency supplies and evacuate the wounded, killing at least nine civilians, one rebel spokesman said. There was no independent confirmation.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam said from Misrata that there had been sporadic clashes on the road to the port and shelling of residential areas. “Those areas are packed with civilians who fled the fighting in the city center,” he said.

“The ball is now in NATO’s court. After Gaddafi’s soldiers and snipers were driven out from the city center and Tripoli Street by the rebel fighters, their strategy has been to shell the city from the outskirts. This can only be solved by NATO.”

The Western alliance has been conducting air strikes on Libya since last month under a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for civilians to be protected.

But it has been reluctant to fire on Gaddafi’s forces in Misrata for fear of hitting civilians, although rebels said on Wednesday it had destroyed 37 military vehicles overnight.

An international aid ship, with 850 migrant workers who were evacuated from Misrata during a lull in shelling, docked in Benghazi on Thursday. The workers, mostly from Niger, were being taken to the Egyptian border for repatriation.

KUFRA “PURIFIED”

Gaddafi forces also took a town in the remote southeastern desert, state television reported. “Libyan forces have seized full control of the town of Kufra and purified it of the armed gangs,” it quoted a military spokesman as saying.

But rebels in their Benghazi stronghold denied the town had fallen. “Gaddafi’s forces have been shelling Kufra since this morning and in the afternoon they entered the town. But they are not in full control. The battle is not over and the situation is unclear,” said rebel spokesman Mohamed al-Muntasser.

In the Western Mountains, Zintan came under heavy fire for a second day from Russian-made missiles. “Today alone, 80 missiles hit the town. We knew they were Grad missiles by the sound they make and we checked what remained of them,” a rebel spokesman, identifying himself as Abdulrahman, said by telephone.

Gaddafi denies his forces are attacking civilians and says his opponents are Islamist militants and foreign-backed agitators who deliberately put non-combatants in harm’s way.

The U.S. Treasury has moved to permit oil deals with the rebel council in Benghazi, which is struggling to provide funding for the battle-scarred areas under its control.

Trading house Vitol has shipped at least one cargo of diesel to the rebels, easing the fuel shortage and potentially unlocking more Libyan oil for export to the West.

Libya is producing only a fraction of its pre-war output and its refineries are idle, so the rebels have been looking to clinch swap deals that involve selling oil and getting oil products in exchange. Trade sources said a diesel cargo on the tanker Delos was loaded in Malta and shipped to Benghazi just over a week ago.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Algiers, Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Deepa Babington and Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Tarek Amara in Tunis, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Sami Aboudi in Cairo, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Jessica Donati in London; writing by David Stamp; Editing by Alison Williams)

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.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110408/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Bassem Mroue, Associated Press 1 min ago

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters Friday, killing at least 13 people, wounding hundreds and forcing residents to turn mosques into makeshift hospitals in a southern city that has become a flashpoint for anti-government demonstrations, witnesses said.

The government acknowledged violence in Daraa, but said only two people died and blamed armed thugs.

One witness said he helped ferry the dead and wounded to the city’s hospital, where he counted 13 corpses.

“My clothes are soaked with blood,” he said by telephone from Daraa, adding that he was among thousands of people at the protest and he witnessed security forces shooting live ammunition.

Like most activists and witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

A nurse at the hospital said they had run out of beds; many people were being treated on the floor or in nearby mosques.

Protest organizers have called on Syrians to take to the streets every Friday for the past three weeks, demanding reform in one of the most authoritarian nations in the Middle East. The protests have rattled the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for nearly 40 years.

The witness accounts coming out of Syria could not be independently confirmed because the regime has restricted media access to the country. Human rights groups say around 115 people have been killed in the security crackdown.

Witnesses in several other cities across Syria also reported protests Friday. An eyewitness in the coastal city of Latakia said hundreds of people took part in a largely peaceful protest Friday calling for political freedoms.

“Peaceful, peaceful!” they shouted, marching past soldiers who were deployed in force in and around the religiously mixed city where clashes two weeks ago killed 12 people. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Activists said protests also erupted in the central cities of Homs and Hama, the coastal city of Banyas, the northern city of Aleppo and outside the capital, Damascus.

A video posted by activists on Facebook showed a crowd of people in the Damascus suburb of Harasta shouting “We want Freedom!” and “The Syrian people will not be humiliated.” The footage could not be independently confirmed.

The state-run News agency said a police officer and an ambulance driver were killed Friday in Daraa. The report blamed “armed men” for the violence. The government has blamed much of the unrest in recent weeks on armed thugs.

It was not clear if SANA and the eyewitness were counting the same people.

The Interior Ministry called on residents of Daraa not to provide shelter for the armed groups that opened fire on civilians and police and to provide authorities with any information they have about them.

Syria had appeared immune to the unrest sweeping the Arab world until three weeks ago, when security forces arrested a group of high school students who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall.

Protests then exploded in cities across the country.

Daraa is parched and impoverished, suffering sustained economic problems from a yearslong drought.

Assad has made a series of concessions to quell the violence, including sacking his Cabinet and firing two governors.

On Thursday, he granted citizenship to thousands of Kurds, fulfilling a decades-old demand of the country’s long-ostracized minority. But the protest Friday in Amouda — a Kurdish city — suggested the population still was not satisfied.

An activist in Douma, a Damascus suburb where at least eight people were killed during protests last Friday, said he was expecting a large turnout Friday. Hundreds of activists and residents have met this week to prepare for the demonstration.

But telephone lines to Douma appeared to be cut Friday. Activists in Damascus, quoting people who came from Douma, said thousands of people were demonstrating outside the suburb’s Grand Mosque.

Despite the regime’s gestures, many Syrian activists remain skeptical about the regime’s concessions and have called for much more concrete reforms, such as lifting the state of emergency, which has been in place since 1963 and gives the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge.

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AP writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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