Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'Deadliest day' in Syria uprising

Dozens reported dead in bloodiest day of uprising so far as "Great Friday" demonstrations rock towns across country.

April 22, 2011 Al Jazeera

Video News:


As many as 70 people were reported to have been killed in Syria on the
bloodiest day since the uprising began, as security forces use live
ammunition and tear gas to quell anti-government protests across the

Activists sent a list naming 70 people from across the country who they
said had been killed by security forces during the "Great Friday"
protests. AL Jazeera has been unable to confirm the exact number of

Fifteen of the deaths took place in Izraa, near the flashpoint southern
town of Daraa, according to the list.

Deaths were reported in Douma and Zamalka, near Damascus (see this video
posted from an unknown source from Zamalka). Other protesters were killed
in Homs, Syria's third largest city, in Moadamia and in Daraa and

Demonstrators marching in peace were surprised by security forces' live
ammunition, according to Hazem, a protester who spoke to Al Jazeera via
phone from a Damascus suburb.

"Demonstrators were going with olive branches, it was peaceful" until they
were "surprised by live ammunition from some security forces in one of the
flats of the street", Hazem said.

The protesters took to the streets to mark what activists dubbed "Great
Friday" - the biggest demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad's government
to date.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin reported from Damascus, which until now was
relatively calm, that the level of tension in the city on Friday marked a
new point in the uprising.

“This day is turning into a very bloody day, probably the bloodiest since
the protests started,” she said.

In the capital, however, a heavy security presence prevented protests from
taking off.

"Obviously the government want[s] to make a point, the capital is a
redline and they will not allow the protests to reach the capital."

Several witnesses, including medical professionals, told Al Jazeera that
many of the injured were either being refused access to hospitals or were
too scared to seek treatment.

A spokesperson for the ministry of information told Al Jazeera on Friday
that security forces would fire on protesters only if they were fired upon

State television, meanwhile, aired a talk show where speakers blamed
foreign media, including Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and BBC Arabic, for
inciting the protests.

Violence in Homs

Speaking under condition of anonymity, a witness in Homs described how
about 200 protesters, moving ahead of a 3,000-strong group, came under
fire as they marched down Cairo Street, close to the Clock Square that has
been the city's focus for protests.

"Suddenly the security opened fire on us randomly," the activist told Al
Jazeera by phone.

One of those killed in the city by government officers was a 25-year-old
protester named Mohammed Bassam al-Kahil, he said.

Meanwhile, another witness in Hasakah, in Syria's mainly Kurdish
northeast, told Al Jazeera that demonstrators gathering at a mosque after
prayers were attacked by pro-government protesters.

Syrian activists co-ordinating the protests against al-Assad's rule have
demanded the abolition of his Baath Party's monopoly on power and the
establishment of a democratic political system.

In the first joint statement since protests erupted five weeks ago, the
Local Co-ordination Committees, representing provinces across Syria, said
"freedom and dignity slogans cannot be achieved except through peaceful
democratic change".

"All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security
apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific
jurisdiction and which operates according to law," said the joint

Contest of wills

On the eve of the protests, witnesses said security forces were setting up
checkpoints in areas surrounding Damascus, checking people's ID cards.

The demonstrations are a test of whether Assad's decision to lift
emergency law, imposed by his Baath Party when it took power in a coup 48
years ago, will defuse mass discontent with repression and corruption.

Haitham Maleh, who heads the Syrian Human Rights Association, a
civil-rights group, told Al Jazeera that the regime's reforms only went a
fraction of the way towards satisfying the protesters' demands for more
freedom, democracy and the legalisation of opposition parties.

"The government will not do anything, I think, and the strikes will get
bigger and bigger," he said.

A spokeswoman for Syria's information ministry says security forces could
open fire if protesters shoot first

Al Jazeera's Amin said that because one of the conditions for the newly
gained right to protest was to request a permit, today's protests fell
outside of the changes.

"There was no time for anyone to ask for permission for today," she said.

Aided by his family and a pervasive security apparatus, Assad, 45, has
absolute power in Syria.

More than 220 protesters have been killed since pro-democracy protests
erupted on March 18 in Daraa, rights campaigners say.

A decree Assad signed on Thursday that lifted emergency law is seen by the
opposition as little more than symbolic, since other laws still give
entrenched security forces wide powers.

Human Right Watch, the New York-based rights monitor, said Assad "has the
opportunity to prove his intentions by allowing [Friday's] protests to
proceed without violent repression.

"The reforms will only be meaningful if Syria's security services stop
shooting, detaining, and torturing protesters," Joe Stork, the group's
deputy Middle East director, said.

The authorities have blamed armed groups, infiltrators and Sunni Muslim
armed groups for provoking violence at demonstrations by firing on
civilians and security forces.

Stepping backwards

Commenting on the Syrian situation, Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East
reporter for the UK's Independent newspaper, says Assad appears to be
"stepping backwards" [see above video for full interview].

"Once you start giving these concessions, the crowds on the streets want
more and it will always end at the same demand: end of the dictator," he
told Al Jazeera from Beirut on Friday.

With his belated concessions, Assad is "is now enduring the failures that
he committed 11 years ago", he said.

While crowds in Damascus and Deraa are getting bigger, Fisk said Assad
will not be fleeing Syria yet.

"He's in a lot of trouble and there must be a lot of talk in the
presidential palace tonight," he said.

Western and other Arab countries have mostly muted their criticism of the
killings in Syria for fear of destabilising the country, which plays a
strategic role in many of the conflicts in the Middle East.

Syria is technically at war with Israel but has kept its Golan Heights
front quiet since a 1974 ceasefire.

49 killed in deadliest day of Syria uprising

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press April 22, 2011

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces fired bullets and tear gas Friday on
pro-democracy demonstrations across the country, killing at least 49
people — including a young boy — in the bloodiest day of the uprising
against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime, witnesses and a
human rights group said.

The protests, held every Friday, have become weekly bloodbaths as security
forces try to crush the demonstrations. But the mounting death tolls have
only served to invigorate a protest movement whose demands have snowballed
from modest reforms to the downfall of the 40-year Assad dynasty.

More than 250 people have been killed over five weeks, human rights groups

"Bullets started flying over our heads like heavy rain," said one witness
in Izraa, a southern village in Daraa province, the same region where the
uprising kicked off in mid-March.

Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, said
the death toll had reached 49 and at least 20 people were missing.

The protest movement has been the gravest challenge against the autocratic
regime led by Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago in
one of the most rigidly controlled countries in the Middle East.

The uprising in Syria takes its inspiration from the popular revolts
sweeping the Arab world. But there are significant differences in Syria
that make the protest movement there all the more unpredictable.

The country's military structure is a key difference — unlike the armies
of Tunisia and Egypt, Syria's military and security apparatus will almost
certainly stand by Assad, at least for the time being.

That means there could be darker days ahead as the uprising gains
momentum, something that has implications far beyond Syria's borders.
Damascus stands in the middle of the most combustible conflicts in region
because of its web of allegiances, from Lebanon's Hezbollah and Shiite
powerhouse Iran.

On Friday, tens of thousands of people were protesting in the Damascus
suburb of Douma, the central cities of Hama and Homs, Latakia and Banias
on the coast, the northern cities of Raqqa and Idlib, the northeastern
Kurdish region, and the southern province of Daraa.

As the protesters dispersed, the scope of the bloodshed began to emerge.

A video posted on the protest movement's main Facebook page showed a man
carrying a bloodied boy near a building as another child could be heard
weeping and shouting "My brother!"

Hospitals received scores of dead and gravely wounded.

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.

Assad 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."

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