Saturday, October 29, 2011

Arab League calls for end to Syria bloodshed

Foreign ministers urge the government to protect civilians, after
activists say dozens are killed in fresh protests.

Oct. 29, 2011 Al Jazeera

Arab foreign ministers have urged the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to
stop the bloodshed in his country, after activists said dozens of people
were killed on Friday.

"The Arab ministerial committee expressed its rejection of the continued
killings of civilians in Syria and expressed its hope that the Syrian
government will take the necessary measures to protect them," the
ministers said.

Arab ministers are due to meet Syrian officials on Sunday in the Qatari
capital, Doha.

Anti-government rallies were held in many Syrian cities and towns on
Friday, with protesters calling for international protection and a no-fly
zone - like the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya that helped topple
Muammar Gaddafi.

"We call on the international community to impose a no-fly zone so that
the Syrian Free Army can function with greater freedom," the Syrian
Revolution 2011 said on its Facebook page.

A defecting army officer who has taken refuge in Turkey, Colonel Riad
al-Asaad, claims to have established an opposition armed force called the
"Syrian Free Army," but its strength and numbers are unknown.

Syria's opposition National Council has also called for international
protection, but has not explicitly requested military intervention.

Assad has not used warplanes against protesters and a no-fly zone would
have little impact on the crackdown unless-- as in the case of Libya -
pilots attacked his ground forces and military bases.

Protesters attacked

Activists said 44 civilians were killed on Friday, most of them in the
central cities of Homs and Hama.

Syrian security forces had encircled mosques to prevent protesters from
demonstrating after weekly Muslim prayers, firing live rounds to disperse
protesters, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The global campaign group Avaaz said 14 people had been killed in the Hama
neighbourhoods of al-Qosour, Hamidiya and al-Jarajmah after security
forces opened fire on protesters, and that dozens of residents were
arrested in door-to-door raids.

The state-run SANA news agency reported that a number of security
personnel were injured by armed men in al-Qosour neighbourhood.

Separately, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that
at least 17 soldiers had been killed in armed clashes in Homs.

The group said the troops were killed as gunmen, believed to be army
deserters, attacked two checkpoints late on Friday.

Activists said at least one person was killed when security forces
attacked the Bab Amr neighbourhood in Homs on Saturday.

Syria has barred most foreign media, making it difficult to verify reports
from activists and from authorities, who blame
foreign-backed armed groups for the violence.

The UN estimates that more than 3,000 people, mostly civilians, have been
killed since the uprising began in March.

The authorities say gunmen have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.

Assad held an inconclusive meeting on Wednesday with Arab ministers
seeking to end the violence by mediating a dialogue between him and his
opponents and pushing for political reforms.

The Arab League had urged both sides to agree to a dialogue within two
weeks - a deadline that looms on Monday.

The authorities said they had major reservations about the proposal, while
opposition figures said they could not sit down
for talks unless there was a halt to the killing of protesters,
disappearances and mass arrests.

"Three days left, and we have 220 martyrs and counting," read a placard
carried by protesters in the neighbourhood of
Rankous on the edge of Damascus. "Yes to dialogue - after the downfall of
the regime," said another in Homs.

Fresh raids in Syria after deadly day of protests

By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY - | Oct. 29, 2011 Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syrian troops conducted fresh raids and hunted down protesters
Saturday after security forces killed about 40 people the previous day —
one of the deadliest in the country's seven-month uprising, activists

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents
reported heavy machine-gun fire in the central city of Homs and sweeping
raids and arrests around the eastern city of Deir el-Zour early Saturday.

The popular revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has
proved remarkably resilient over the past months, with protests erupting
every week despite the near-certainty the government will respond with
bullets and tear gas. The U.N. estimates the regime crackdown on the
protests has killed 3,000 people since March.

Much of the bloodshed Friday happened after the protests had ended and
security forces armed with machine guns chased protesters and activists,
according to opposition groups monitoring the demonstrations. Authorities
disrupted telephone and Internet service, they said.

The Syrian opposition's two main activist groups, the Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights and the Local Coordinating Committees, said at least 40
people were killed on Friday.

Syria has largely sealed off the country from foreign journalists and
prevented independent reporting, making it difficult to confirm events on
the ground. Key sources of information are amateur videos posted online,
witness accounts and details gathered by activist groups.

The regime appears to lack sufficient numbers of loyal troops to garrison
all the centers of unrest at the same time, so government forces will
often sweep through an area in the wake of protests, breaking up new
gatherings and hunting activists, before being deployed elsewhere.

The result has been a monthslong stalemate. Still, the capture and
subsequent death of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, under still-unclear
circumstances, has energized the opposition. Last week, thousands of
Syrians took to the streets shouting that Assad will be next.

On Friday, many protesters said they wanted a no-fly zone established over
Syria to protect civilians in case the Syrian regime considers attacking
protesters from the sky, the activist groups said. The protesters also
called for international monitors, although most opposition groups reject
the idea of foreign military intervention.

The Syrian government insists the unrest is being driven by terrorists and
foreign extremists looking to stir up sectarian strife.

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