Thursday, March 24, 2011

So, since we know where this is headed with the Assad Regime, will we engage in 'kinetic military action' in Syria as well?


Thousands shout for freedom in southern Syria
Associated Press

DARAA, Syria (AP) -- Thousands called for liberty Thursday in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, defying a deadly government crackdown as they took to the streets in funeral marches for protesters killed by police gunfire, an activist said.

Media access to the marches was restricted but an Associated Press reporter heard sporadic bursts of gunfire echoing through the city in the afternoon. Almost all shops were shuttered, the streets were virtually empty and soldiers and anti-terrorism police stopped people at checkpoints and manned many intersections - the heaviest security presence since the unrest began.

The activist in contact with residents of Daraa told The Associated Press that massive crowds shouted "Syria, freedom!" as they marched toward one of the agricultural hub's main cemeteries.

Others in Daraa held a sit-in in the al-Mahata neighborhood to protest the killing of residents in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters, the activist said.

Inspired by the wave of pro-democracy protests around the region, the uprising in Daraa and at least four nearby villages has become the biggest domestic challenge since the 1970s to the Syrian government, one of the most repressive in the Middle East. Security forces have responded with water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Syrian police launched a relentless assault Wednesday on a neighborhood sheltering anti-government protesters, fatally shooting many in an operation that lasted nearly 24 hours, witnesses said.

A resident of Daraa who was reached by phone from Damascus said witnesses there reported seeing at least 34 people slain.

He said at least 20 bodies were brought to Daraa National Hospital, and seven others taken to hospitals in neighboring areas. In the early evening, people from the nearby villages of Inkhil, Khirbet Ghazale and al-Harrah tried to march on Daraa but security forces opened fire and hit them with rifle butts as they approached. The resident said seven more were killed in that shooting. Hundreds were wounded, he said.

The resident spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"It was a very difficult, bloody day," he said. "There is a state of undeclared curfew in Daraa, whenever troops see four or five more people gathered they open fire," he said.

"Daraa today is like a ghost town, we are very scared," he said. "Everything is closed and the streets are empty, everywhere you look there's security."

Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban told reporters that 10 people were killed Wednesday in what she called an attempt to target Syria because it supports resistance against Israel.

"What is being targeted is Syria's position, Syria's security and ability to be a pillar of resistance against Zionism and U.S. schemes," she said.

She said the Syrian government had no objection to peaceful protests, and claimed that demonstrators in Daraa had attacked security forces.

"The demands of the people are being studied night and day and Syria will witness important decision that meet the ambitions of our people," she said.

Abdul-Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian Human Rights League, said authorities had begun a campaign of detentions against activists, writers and bloggers in different parts of Syria.

Rihawi said the last to be detained was Mazen Darwish, a journalist who headed the independent Syrian Media Center. He said Darwish was summoned to a security office Wednesday noon and has not been seen since then. Also detained were well-known writer Loay Hussein and blogger Ahmad Hdaithi.

"These arrests will only increase tension," Rihawi said.

A statement posted Thursday on the Facebook page "The Syrian Revolution 2011" held Syrian authorities led by President Bashar Assad responsible for the violence and called on the Syrian people to hold protests in all Syrian provinces on Friday, which it dubbed "Dignity Friday."

An official at the Daraa National Hospital told The Associated Press by telephone that the hospital received a large number of casualties Wednesday and was "overwhelmed" with wounded people. He declined to say how many people were dead or hurt, saying he was not authorized to give out numbers or talk to the press.

He said the hospital had not received any new casualties since Wednesday night and that Daraa was "very quiet this morning."

Videos posted by activists on Youtube and Twitter showed dead and wounded people lying on a street in Daraa, as heavy gunfire crackled nearby and people shouted in panic.

One video showed a man with a bloodied face, apparently shot in the head, raising his index finger and saying "There is no God but Allah" - the credo Muslims are required to say before they die.

The authenticity of the videos could not be independently confirmed.

In a tacit admission that the protests hitting the Arab world have reached Syria, Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said in remarks carried by state-media that "the developments in the Arab world should should be a catalyst to build nations and not for undermining national unity."


At least 37 Syrian protesters killed, hospital says

DERAA, Syria (Reuters) – The main hospital in the southern Syrian city of Deraa has received the bodies of at least 37 protesters who were killed in a confrontation with security forces, a hospital official said Thursday.

Security forces opened fire on hundreds of youths at the northern entrance to Deraa Wednesday afternoon, according to witnesses, in a dramatic escalation of nearly a week of protests in which at least 44 civilians have been killed since Friday.

Around 20,000 people marched Thursday in the funerals for nine of those killed, chanting freedom slogans and denying official accounts that infiltrators and "armed gangs" are behind the killings and violence in Deraa.

"Traitors do not kill their own people ... God, Syria, Freedom. The blood of martyrs is not spilled in waste!" they chanted in Deraa's southern cemetery.

As Syrian soldiers armed with AK-47s roamed the streets of the southern city, residents emptied shops of staples and basic goods and said they feared the government of President Bashar al-Assad was intent on crushing the revolt by force.

Assad, a close ally of Iran, key player in neighboring Lebanon and supporter of militant groups opposed to Israel, has dismissed rising demands for reform in Syria, a country of 20 million people run by the Baath Party since a 1963 coup.

A government statement said "outside parties" were spreading lies about the situation in Deraa, which is near the Jordanian border. It blamed "armed gangs" for the violence.

Some people recalled the 1982 massacre in Hama, when Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, sent troops to the conservative religious city to crush the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Human rights groups say at least 20,000 died.

"If the rest of Syria does not erupt Friday, we will be facing annihilation," said one resident, referring to Friday prayers, the only time citizens are allowed to gather en masse without government permission.


The environment today is very different from that of 1982, when Syria was supported by the Soviet Union and its minority Alawite rulers were firming up their control of the country against religious and secular opponents without serious criticism from the international community.

Assad, who is facing mounting criticism by the West for the bloodshed in Deraa, "is not against any Syrian citizen," Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara was quoted as saying this week.

The protesters in Deraa, a mainly Sunni city, have shouted slogans against the government's alliance with Shi'ite Iran, breaking a taboo on criticizing Syrian foreign policy.

But their slogans have also emphasized the unity of Syria, a country of myriad sects and ethnicities where Islamists have been allowed by the government to exercise more social influence on society in the last few years.

Deraa is tribal, with emphasis on big families and significant income from expatriates around the world. The people are conservative, but old leftist and Nasserite influences linger. The Baath Party, which has a secular ideology, and the army, have recruited many cadres from Deraa.

The army has so far taken a secondary role -- mostly manning checkpoints -- in confronting demonstrations. Secret police and special police units wearing all black have been more visible in Deraa since the protests erupted last Friday.

Witnesses said hundreds of soldiers patrolled Deraa's main streets as heavy rain fell, with scores manning intersections to prevent public gatherings. Travelers on a main highway near Deraa said they saw convoys of trucks carrying up to 2,000 soldiers heading to Deraa Wednesday night.


In a separate attack in the early hours of Wednesday, security forces fired at protesters in the vicinity of the Omari mosque in Deraa's old quarter, residents said.

Two people killed in that attack, a man and a woman called Ibtissam Masalmeh, were buried in Deraa Wednesday. Thousands marched in the funeral chanting calls for freedom, and -- for the first time since protests broke out Friday -- slogans against Iran and Lebanon's armed Shi'ite movement Hezbollah.

"Honorable Syrians don't rely on Iran or Hezbollah," they chanted..

YouTube footage showed what was purported to be the street in front of the mosque before the attack, with sound of gunfire audible and a person inside the mosque grounds yelling: "Brother don't shoot. This country is big enough for me and you."

The United Nations and the United States condemned the violence. France, which occupied Syria from 1925 to 1946, urged the ruling elite to open up to dialogue and democratic change.

Britain called on Syria to respect people's right to peaceful protest and to take action on their grievances.

The Baath Party has banned opposition and enforced emergency laws since 1963. But the wave of Arab unrest which has toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt presents Assad with the biggest challenge to his rule since he succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000.

1 comment:

Epaminondas said...

Assad will kill them all before Obama's people even know there is a decision to delay making