Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Syrian forces kill 11 in swoop on northern towns

Syrian forces kill 11 in swoop on northern towns

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Tulay Karadeniz | Reuters – Aug. 11, 2011

AMMAN/HAMA, Syria (Reuters) - Syrian forces killed 11 people in a raid on
a northern town Thursday, activists said, pursuing a military campaign to
crush protests against President Bashar al-Assad despite new U.S.
sanctions and regional calls to end the bloodshed.

They said the killings occurred when troops backed by tanks swept into
Qusair, near the Lebanon border, after overnight protests calling for
Assad's removal. One person was also killed in the coastal city of

Around 14 tanks and armored vehicles also swept into Saraqeb, a town on
Syria's main north-south highway that has seen daily demonstrations, and
100 people were arrested by the security forces, residents said by

Syria's northern towns have been a particular target in recent days of the
crackdown on demonstrations calling for Assad's overthrow, inspired by
popular revolts against rulers elsewhere in the Arab world.

Officials escorted a group of Turkish reporters around the city of Hama
Thursday after a week-long crackdown. However, Syria has barred most
independent journalists since the uprising against 41 years of Assad
family rule flared five months ago, making it difficult to verify accounts
from both sides of events on the ground.

At least 1,700 civilians have been killed in the unrest, rights groups
say, and a series of military assaults on cities and towns since the start
of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan 10 days ago has sharpened
international condemnation.

The United States ambassador to Damascus warned Syria on Thursday of more
U.S. sanctions if violence does not stop, a day after Washington imposed
sanctions on a Syrian state bank and on Syria's biggest mobile telephone

Regional powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all added pressure on
Assad to stop the violence, although no country has proposed the kind of
military intervention being carried out by NATO forces against Libyan
leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Syria says 500 soldiers and police have died in the bloodshed, which it
blames on armed gangs and terrorists.


In Hama, main streets were empty Thursday, windows shuttered and most
shops closed after the week-long military assault to crush protests in the
city which became a symbol of defiance against Assad.

A day after authorities announced the army had pulled out, following the
crackdown in which activists said scores of people were killed, the
government appeared in full control.

No tanks could be seen but armed, uniformed men stood on rooftops,
soldiers manned a series of checkpoints into the city, and the governor's
building in the central square was flanked by two military vehicles topped
by machine guns.

Several residents, their comments translated to the visiting Turkish
journalists by Syrian officials, said the army moved in after the city was
taken over by groups who had blocked roads and burned state buildings.

But one youth, his face masked and only his eyes visible, had a different
message. "You see us, we have no weapons, but they are attacking us with
tanks and planes," he said. "And I tell President Assad that, even though
it will be difficult, we will get you out of power."

Syrian human rights group Sawasiah said at least 30 people were arrested
in dawn raids in the northern countryside near Aleppo, while similar
arrest took place in the northern Idlib province, Damascus suburbs and the
southern Hauran Plain.

Another activist group, the Local Coordinating Committees, said nine
detainees had died from torture in detention over the last 10 days in
Damascus, Homs, Deraa and Damascus suburbs.

European members of the U.N. Security Council Wednesday warned Syria that
it could face tougher U.N. action if Assad continued the onslaught against
protesters, while Russia urged Damascus to implement promised reforms as
soon as possible.

But Russia and China, both with veto powers in the Council and backed by
India, South Africa and Brazil, have vehemently opposed the idea of
slapping U.N. sanctions on Damascus, which Western diplomats say would be
the logical next step.

Envoys of Britain, France, Germany and Portugal spoke to reporters after a
closed-door session of the 15-nation council convened to assess Syria's
compliance with last week's call by the world body for "an immediate end
to all violence."

They said the Syrian leadership has ignored that demand.

Despite the worsening bloodshed, there appears little prospect that
Western states will put teeth on the sanctions on Assad by targeting
Syria's vital oil industry because of vested commercial interests abroad
against doing so.

But Assad is suffering deepening international isolation, with several
fellow Arab states recalling their ambassadors this week and pointed calls
by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two regional heavyweights, on him to curb his
forces now and launch reforms.

At Wednesday's Council meeting, U.N. deputy political affairs chief Oscar
Fernandez-Taranco said that nearly 2,000 Syrian civilians had been killed
since March -- 188 since July 31 and 87 on August 8 alone, diplomats at
the meeting said.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that "it would be much, much
better for the people of Syria, and Syria would be better off, without
Assad." She was echoing comments made last week by White House spokesman
Jay Carney.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow had made clear to Damascus
that Assad should follow through on reform promises as swiftly as

"They need to have serious reforms as soon as possible, even though we do
realize that it takes time, especially in a dramatic situation like this,"
he said. Asked if he thought the new U.S. sanctions on Syria were helpful,
Churkin said: "No."

Syrian envoy Bashar Ja'afari blasted the Europeans, accusing them of
misleading reporters about the situation.

"They tried to manipulate the truth and to hide important facts and
elements related to the so-called situation in Syria," he said, adding
that the Europeans had deliberately ignored Assad's promises of reform and
national dialogue.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at United Nations, Tabassum
Zakaria in Washington, Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by David Stamp)

Syrian forces storms two western towns

Activists say troops entered Saraqeb and that five people were killed in
Qusayr, as government rejects global criticism.

11 Aug 2011 Al Jazeera

Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, says the international
community should stay out of its affairs

The Syrian army has stormed the northwestern town of Saraqeb, near
Turkey's border, and the town of Qusayr, in central Homs, activists and
local residents said.

Five people were reportedly killed soon after tanks entered the town of
Qusayr on Thursday.

Earlier, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that
troops stormed Saraqeb in northwestern Idlib province, detaining at least
100 people.

"Around 14 tanks and armoured vehicles entered Saraqeb this morning,
accompanied by 50 buses, pick-ups and security cars," a resident who fled
Saraqeb, 50km southeast of Turkey's Iskenderun province, said.

"They started firing randomly and storming houses."

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an organisation that organisea and
documenta the protests in the country, also said explosions and gunfire
were heard after the army stormed the area.

Idlib province has witnessed intense protests against President Bashar
al-Assad's regime.

On Wednesday, an AFP journalist saw dozens of soldiers stream out of Ariha
in the south of Idlib province.

A Syrian military source said the troops were pulling out of Ariha after
succeeding in their mission "to hunt down saboteurs and armed groups at
the request of Idlib's residents".

Damascus blames "armed terrorist groups" for fomenting a popular uprising
in Syria that has been ruthlessly suppressed by the security forces.

Diplomatic pressure

The international community has ratcheted up pressure on Syria, with the
UN Security Council threatening Damascus with stronger action if it does
not stop its crackdown on protesters.

On Wednesday, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the UN assistant secretary-general,
briefed the 15-member Security Council behind closed doors about events in
Syria in the week since the council called for an "immediate" halt to the

Taranco was quoted as saying there had been no letup in the deaths of
protesters while UN officials had met Syrian diplomats to try to get
accurate information.

Taranco's briefing had been "depressing and chilling," Philip Parham,
Britain's deputy UN ambassador, later told reporters.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, said the
international community should stay out of Syria's affairs.

Jaafar said the country's sovereignty was "a red line that must not be

"We know our commitments, our obligations but at the same time we know
what are our rights. And our rights do not stem from any political
pressure. They stem from our own political will," he said.

Barack Obama, the US president, spoke to Recapp Tayyip Erdogan, the
Turkish prime minister, on Thursday about the situation in Syria.

"The two leaders underscored the urgency of the situation", and "their
belief that the Syrian people's legitimate demands for a transition to
democracy should be met", a White House press statement reported.

The US, which has called for the Security Council to take a tougher
stance, imposed sanctions on Wednesday on the commercial bank of Syria,
and its Lebanon-based subsidiary, as well as Syriatel, the largest mobile
phone operator.

"The regime in public will appear to be defiant, but in private the regime
will be very worried that sanctions will dry up its coffers," Malik al
Abdeh, a Syrian journalist and member of the opposition movement for
justice and development, said.

Since the uprising that began in mid-March the government crackdown has
claimed up to 2,000 according to rights groups.

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