Tag Archive: Damascus


Baathists quit over Syria’s Deraa crackdown

Protesters are seen holding placards during a demonstration in Douma townhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110427/wl_nm/us_syria

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis Khaled Yacoub Oweis 23 mins ago

AMMAN (Reuters) – More than 200 members of Syria’s ruling Baath Party quit on Wednesday over President Bashar al-Assad’s violent repression of pro-democracy protests, the first public sign of serious dissent within the governing ranks.

Resigning from the autocratic Baath Party, which has ruled Syria since taking power in a 1963 coup, was unthinkable before pro-democracy protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa on March 18.

A rights group said the violence had killed more than 450 people and international criticism sharpened after 100 people were killed on Friday and security forces began an attack on the southern city of Deraa on Monday.

Two hundred party members from Deraa province and surrounding regions said they had resigned in protest against the attack, in which security forces killed at least 35 people.

“In view of the negative stance taken by the leadership of the Arab Socialist Baath Party toward the events in Syria and in Deraa, and after the death of hundreds and the wounding of thousands at the hands of the various security forces, we submit our collective resignation,” they said in a declaration.

Another 28 Baathists in the restive coastal city of Banias also resigned on Wednesday in protest at the “practices of the security forces against honorable citizens… and torture and murder they committed.”

Analysts say the demonstrations that have spread across Syria have grown in intensity, with protestors who began calling for reform of the system now demanding its overthrow.

Bashir’s attempts to appease discontent by lifting emergency law, while keeping draconian powers of the secret police and the Baath Party’s monopoly on power, have not stopped protests.

Security forces earlier on Wednesday surrounded Banias, while tanks patrolled Deraa and troops moved into the Damascus suburb of Douma, another seat of anti-government protests.

Assad’s decision to storm Deraa echoed his father’s 1982 suppression of Islamists in Hama and drew threats of sanctions from western powers.

Germany said it strongly supported EU sanctions against the Syrian leadership, and the bloc’s executive body, the European Commission, said all options were on the table for punitive measures against Damascus.

France summoned Syria’s ambassador to protest at the violence and said Britain, Spain, Germany and Italy were doing the same. “Syrian authorities must meet the legitimate demands of their people with reforms, and not through the use of force,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The United States, which imposed a limited economic embargo against Syria in 2004, says it is considering further targeted sanctions in response to the “abhorrent and deplorable” violence by security forces deployed in the crackdown on protesters.

Amnesty International has urged the U.N. Security Council to refer Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, impose an arms embargo and freeze assets belonging to Assad and others involved in serious human rights abuses.

DEATH TOLL

A witness told Reuters that a convoy of at least 30 army tanks headed early on Wednesday from southwest of Damascus, near the Golan Heights front line with Israel, in a direction which could take them either to Douma or to Deraa.

Overnight, white buses had brought hundreds of soldiers in full combat gear into Douma, from where protesters have tried to march into the center of the capital in the last two weeks, only to be stopped by bullets.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had names of at least 453 civilians killed during the protests across the country against Assad’s 11-year authoritarian rule.

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.

The unrest could have serious regional repercussions because Syria straddles the fault lines of Middle East conflict.

Assad has strengthened Syria’s ties with Shi’ite Iran, and both countries back the Hezbollah and Hamas militant groups, although Damascus still seeks peace with Israel. Syria and Israel are technically at war but the Golan frontier between them has been quiet since a 1974 ceasefire.

BODY “RUN OVER BY TANK”

A resident in Deraa, where electricity, water and phone lines were cut when the army rolled in at dawn on Monday, said fresh food was running out and grocery stores were giving away their produce. “It’s mostly tinned food they are distributing to us,” he said by telephone.

A relative said his neighbor saw a tank driving over the body of a young man in the main Tishrin square on Tuesday.

“They are telling us: ‘You have to accept us and we will remain forever your rulers, whether you like it or not. And if you resist us, this is your fate’,” he said.

He said the army push into Deraa was also a warning to other cities of what they could expect if protests continued. “But God willing, we are steadfast and this only strengthens our resolve to get rid of them — not tomorrow, today,” he added.

Diplomats said the unit Assad sent into Deraa on Monday was the ultra-loyal Fourth Mechanised Division, commanded by his brother Maher. Reports from opposition figures and some Deraa residents, which could not be confirmed, said that some soldiers from another unit had refused to fire on civilians.

Syria has blamed armed groups for the violence. Protesters say their rallies have been peaceful and security forces have opened fire on unarmed demonstrators.

Assad, a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, nevertheless retains some support, especially among co-religionists who dominate the army and secret police and could lose preferential treatment if majority Sunni Syria was to transform into a democracy.

An alliance between the ruling minority and the Sunni merchant class, forged by the elder Assad through a blend of coercion and the granting of privileges, still holds, robbing protesters of financial backing and a foothold in the old bazaars of Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s second city.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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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)

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.

___

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

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