Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Syrian forces shoot dead 14 in Hama: activists

July 5, 2011 Reuters

AMMAN (Reuters) - Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shot dead 14
people on Tuesday in the Syrian city of Hama, activists said, and France
called on the United Nations to adopt a firm stance in the face of
"ferocious armed repression."

Tanks were still surrounding Hama, days after it witnessed some of the
biggest protests against Assad's rule since a 14-week uprising erupted in

The attacks focused on two districts north of the Orontes River, which
splits the city of 650,000 people in half. Residents said the dead
included two brothers, Baha and Khaled al-Nahar, who were killed at a

Troops raided towns to the northwest of Hama near the border with Turkey
in Idlib province, and authorities intensified a campaign of arrests that
has resulted in the detention of at least 500 people across Syria in the
last few days, rights campaigners said.

In the eastern provincial capital of Deir al-Zor, security forces arrested
Ahmad Tuma, a former political prisoner and secretary general of the
Damascus Declaration, a grouping of opposition figures founded in 2005 to
unify efforts to transform the country into a democracy.

"Heavily armed 'amn' (security police) came to Dr Tuma's clinic and
dragged him away in front of his patients," one of Tuma's friends told
Reuters by phone.

Some residents of Hama, scene of a crackdown by Assad's father nearly 30
years ago, had sought to halt any military advance by blocking roads
between neighborhoods with garbage containers, burning tires, wood and

Tuesday's raid by security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad followed the
killings of at least three people when troops and security police entered
Hama at dawn on Monday.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said the world could not
stand by "inactive and powerless" in the face of the violence.

"We are hoping that the Security Council adopt a clear and firm position
and we call on all the members of the Security Council to take
responsibility in light of this dramatic situation with a Syrian
population subjected day after day to an unacceptable, ferocious and
implacable armed repression."

French MP Gerard Bapt, head of the French-Syrian Friendship Committee,
told Reuters: "With the Arab League not moving and with a nation like
Saudi Arabia saying nothing publicly to condemn the killings by the Syrian
regime it is difficult to see international pressure rising beyond the

France, unlike its European partners and the United States, says Assad has
lost legitimacy to rule. But a French campaign for U.N. condemnation of
the crackdown has met stiff Russian and Chinese resistance.

France's foreign minister Alain Juppe, who held talks in Moscow last week,
said on Tuesday there were signs Russia was beginning to question its
Syrian stance. He said he attempted to sway his Russian counterpart,
Sergei Lavrov, but that Russia was still threatening to use a veto against
the resolution.

The U.S. State Department said Syria's actions belied Assad's promises to
launch a national political dialogue.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Syria was "going in the
wrong direction" and needed to take quick action to pull back security
forces, stop violence, release political prisoners and launch political
talks with the opposition.

German Ambassador Peter Wittig, U.N. Security Council president for the
month of July, said at the United Nations on Tuesday that discussions
continued about the Council possibly issuing a resolution on Syria.

"Discussions on a draft resolution that is on the table -- presented by
the European Council members including mine -- will continue," said
Wittig. "We don't know yet the result but there will be continued
discussions on that initiative."

Wittig said he was hoping for support from other countries in the coming
"days and weeks" for the resolution.

The U.N. is also expected to start discussing on July 14 the recent
decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors to
report Syria's covert nuclear activities to the Security Council for
possible punitive action.

Asked why there has been no international intervention in Syria like there
was in Libya, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said a request from
the Arab League to impose a no-fly zone on Libya was a major factor behind
action there.


"Assad may wait to see whether large-scale protests in Hama continue. He
knows that using military aggression against peaceful demonstrations in a
symbolic place like Hama would lose him support even from Russia and
China," Syrian activist Mohammad Abdallah told Reuters from exile in

Abdallah said using tanks to attack Hama would "totally discredit" a
promise made by Assad to seek dialogue with his opponents. Troops and
armor were attacking villages and towns in the Jabal-al-Zawya region,
north of Hama, which had been the scene of large protests against Assad's
11-year rule, he said.

Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years until his
death in 2000, sent troops into Hama in 1982 to crush an Islamist-led
uprising in the city where the Fighting Vanguard, the armed wing of the
Muslim Brotherhood, made its last stand.

That attack killed many thousands, possibly up to 30,000, and one slogan
shouted by Hama protesters in recent weeks was "Damn your soul, Hafez."

Authorities have prevented most independent media from operating in Syria,
making it difficult to verify accounts from activists and authorities.

Rights groups say Syrian security forces have shot and killed at least
1,300 civilians across the country since the protests started and arrested
over 12,000.

Several troops and police officers have been killed for refusing to fire
at civilians.

Authorities say 500 police and soldiers have been killed by gunmen, who
they blame for most civilian deaths.

Assad has promised a national dialogue with the opposition to discuss
political reform in Syria, which has been under the iron rule of the Baath
Party for nearly 50 years. Many opposition figures reject dialogue while
the killings and arrests continue.

(Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage and Erika Solomon, Writing by
Dominic Evans; Editing by Louise Ireland and Robert Woodward)

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