Tag Archive: President Bashar Assad


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

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