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Syrian tanks shell Latakia, death toll reaches 34

Posted by Admin on August 16, 2011

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis | Reuters – 2 hrs 16 mins ago

Smoke rises in the city of Latakia

Smoke rises in the city of Latakia August 14, 2011. REUTERS/Handout

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian tanks opened fire on poor Sunni districts in Latakia on Tuesday, residents said, the fourth day of a military assault on the northern port city aimed at crushing protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

“Heavy machinegun fire and explosions were hitting al-Raml al-Filistini (home to Palestinian refugees) and al-Shaab this morning. This subsided and now there is the sound of intermittent tank fire,” one of the residents, who lives near the two districts, told Reuters by phone.

The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, a grassroots activists’ group, said six people, including Ahmad Soufi, 22, were killed in Latakia on Monday, bringing the civilian death toll there to 34, including a two-year-old girl.

Assad, from Syria‘s minority Alawite sect, has broadened a military assault against towns and cities where demonstrators have been demanding his removal since the middle of March.

The crackdown coincided with the August 1 start of the Muslim Ramadan fast, when nightly prayers became the occasion for more protests against 41 years of Baathist party rule.

Syrian forces have already stormed Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, and several northwestern towns in a province bordering Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Assad to halt such military operations now or face unspecified consequences.

“This is our final word to the Syrian authorities, our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally,” Davutoglu said in Turkey’s strongest warning yet to its once close ally and neighbor.

“If these operations do not stop, there will be nothing left to say about the steps that would be taken,” he told a news conference in Ankara, without elaborating.

Turkish leaders, who have repeatedly urged Assad to end violence and pursue reforms, have grown frustrated. Davutoglu held talks with the Syrian leader in Damascus only last week.

The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union said troops also assaulted villages in the Houla Plain north of the city of Homs on Monday, killing eight people as they raided houses and made arrests. The organization said four people were killed in Homs during similar attacks.


In a now-familiar pattern, tanks and armored vehicles deployed around dissident neighborhoods of Latakia and essential services were cut before security forces began raids, arrests and bombardment, residents said.

“People are trying to flee but they cannot leave Latakia because it is besieged. The best they can do is to move from one area to another within the city,” another witness said on Monday.

Thousands of people fled a Palestinian refugee camp in Latakia, some fleeing gunfire and others leaving on orders from the Syrian authorities, a U.N. official said.

“Between 5,000 and 10,000 have fled, we don’t know where these people are so it’s very worrying,” said Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA agency which cares for Palestinian refugees. “We have a handful of confirmed deaths and nearly 20 injured.”

The Palestinian presidency in the West Bank city of Ramallah urged Damascus to safeguard the lives of Palestinian refugees in al-Raml camp in Latakia.

Another grassroots activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said it had the names of at least 260 civilians, including 14 women and two infants, killed this month.

It said the actual toll was likely to be far higher with scant information so far from the hard-hit city of Hama, still besieged by troops and secret police.

Syria has expelled most independent media since the unrest began, making it hard to verify reports from the country.

Navy ships shelled southern parts of Latakia on Sunday, residents and rights groups said.

Nightly anti-Assad rallies after Ramadan prayers have drawn around 20,000 people in different areas of the city, said one witness, a university student.

The official state news agency SANA denied Latakia had been shelled from the sea and said two police and four unidentified armed men were killed when security forces pursued “armed men who were terrorizing residents … and using machineguns and explosives from rooftops and from behind barricades.”

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it was unable to confirm that the Syrian navy had shelled Latakia.

“However, we are able to confirm that there is amour in the city and that there is firing on innocents again in the pattern of carnage that you have seen in other places,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.


Unlike most Syrian cities, which are mainly Sunni, Latakia has a large Alawite population, partly because Assad and his father before him encouraged Alawites to move from their nearby mountain region by offering them cheap land and jobs in the public sector and security apparatus.

Latakia port has played a key role in the Assad family’s domination of the economy, with Bashar al-Assad’s late uncle Jamil having been in virtual control of the facility, and a new generation of family members and their friends taking over.

Assad replaced the governor of the northern province of Aleppo, SANA reported, after pro-democracy protests spread to the provincial capital, Syria’s main commercial hub.

“The minority regime is playing with fire. We are coming to a point where the people in the street would rather take any weapon they can put their hand on and fight than be shot at or arrested and humiliated,” said one activist.

“We are seeing civil war in Syria, but it is one-sided. The hope is for street protests and international pressure to bring down the regime before it kills more Syrians and drives them to take up arms,” he added, asking not to be named.

Rights groups say at least 12,000 have been detained during the uprising. Thousands of political prisoners were already in jail. Amnesty International says it has listed 1,700 civilians killed since mid-March. Washington has put the toll at 2,000. Damascus says 500 police and soldiers have been killed.

The assaults by Syrian security forces have drawn increasing condemnation from the West, Turkey and more recently from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Washington wants Europe and China to consider sanctions on Syria’s vital oil and gas industry. Germany called for more European Union sanctions against Syria on Monday and urged the U.N. Security Council to discuss the crackdown again this week.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Ramallah, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Reporting by Jonathon Burch, Tulay Karadeniz and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; editing by Michael Roddy)

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Syrian government: 12 killed in seaside city

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2011

AP – Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, shouts pro-Assad slogans as they hold his posters, in Damascus
By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Zeina Karam, Associated Press 1 hr 1 min ago

DAMASCUS, Syria – The Syrian government says 12 people were killed in violence rocking a seaside Mediterranean city.

Syria’s state-run news agency said unknown armed elements on Saturday attacked neighborhoods in Latakia, shooting from rooftops and terrorizing people.

Ten people, including security forces, residents as well as two members of the shadowy “armed elements” died in the violence.

Some 200 others were wounded, most from the security forces, the report said Sunday.

Syrian army units deployed in Latakia Saturday night following a day of violence and chaos in which protesters and the government traded accusations of violence and incitement.

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Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals as Emergency Law Lifted

Posted by Admin on March 27, 2011

Saturday 26 March 2011

by: Michael Slackman and Liam Stack, The New York Times News Service | Report


Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals as Emergency Law Lifted
President Bashar al-Assad called Sunday for the United States to use its influence to revive negotiations between his country and Israel. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

Cairo – Violence continued to plague Syria this weekend, as government forces killed more demonstrators in Latakia, protesters burned offices of the ruling party in the south and west, and mourners throughout the country buried the dozens of unarmed protesters killed a day earlier.

President Bashar al-Assad of the ruling Baath Party began the day in what appeared to be a gesture intended to ease the crisis, when he announced the release of as many as 200 political prisoners. But by sunset, Baath Party offices were burning in at least two cities, the military was deployed in Latakia and once again government forces opened fire with live rounds, witnesses said.

After more than a week of protests and human rights groups confirming that 61 people had been killed by government forces, there appeared to be no clear path forward for protesters, who had erupted in angry demonstrations around the country on Friday, or for the government, which has offered words of compromise at the same time that it has unleashed lethal force.

“People are afraid,” said a prominent religious leader from a community at the center of the conflicts, who was not identified to protect him from reprisal. “People are afraid that the events might get bigger. They are afraid there might be more protests.”

Exact numbers of the dead are hard to determine, as the official government news service denied the authorities’ culpability in new reports blaming criminal gangs. By nightfall, government officials were blaming a sectarian clash for the crisis, which was quickly dismissed by protest supporters, who said the goal was freedom for all Syrians and an end to authoritarian rule.

The protesters, according to the religious leader, want “freedom and their rights; they were making demands from the government for things to get better here and for an end to the state of emergency.”

The day broke over a landscape of grief as mourners set out for funerals in the southern towns of Sanamayn and Dara’a, in Latakia, in the central city of Homs and in the suburbs of Damascus. In each place, demonstrators had been killed hours earlier, shot by government forces in the most violent government oppression since 1982, when the leadership killed at least 10,000 people in the northern city of Hama.

But the mourning soon gave way to another surge of demonstrations, and then violence. At least two demonstrators in Latakia were killed after protesters set fire to the local headquarters of the Baath Party. Ammar Qurabi, the chairman of the National Association for Human Rights, said two witnesses reported seeing Syrian Special Forces open fire into a crowd.

One Latakia resident reached by telephone said 10,000 to 15,000 antigovernment protesters from the city and surrounding villages, some armed with knives, machetes and clubs, had taken to the streets. “The demonstrations have been peaceful, “ the resident said, “but after the violence yesterday protesters brought weapons.”

In the southern village of Tafas, near the protest movement’s epicenter in Dara’a, mourners also set fire to the local Baath headquarters.

Pro-government demonstrators were also out in Damascus, where about 200 people drove around the city on Saturday evening in a convoy of cars, trucks and minibuses. They carried portraits of President Assad and his father, former President Hafez al-Assad, and chanted, “We are national unity” and “With our soul and with our blood, we will redeem you, Bashar.”

A government spokeswoman, Buthaina Shaaban, denied to BBC Arabic that government forces had opened fire on protesters, blaming instead foreigners and an armed group of villagers. “We arrested outsiders in Syria charged with opening fire on the crowd,” she said. “They stole weapons. The authorities did not shoot protesters, but an armed group from Sanamayn” did.

Protests have taken place around Syria since the start of the tumultuous movement for change that has shaken the Arab world with peaceful protest and conflicts approaching civil war. But the political crisis blew wide open about a week ago when demonstrators took to the streets in Dara’a after the police arrested a group of young people for scrawling antigovernment graffiti, hauling them away without notifying their parents.

Syria is a resource-poor nation with great strategic influence in the region because of its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and its location bordering Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. But it also struggles with a fragile sense of national unity amid sectarian tensions between its rulers, all members of the minority Alawite religious sect, and a Sunni majority. It also clings to a pan-Arab Baathist ideology.

“The events are developing and succeeding each other rapidly all over Syria,” Abdel Majid Manjouni, assistant chairman of the Socialist Democratic Arab Union Party in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, said in a telephone interview. “They are going from city to city, and the ruling party is not being successful in its attempt to block the protests or the demands for democratic change in the country.”

The Syrian crisis has in many ways followed a course similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt, which ended with the resignation of each country’s president.

In Syria, there have been no widespread calls for President Assad’s departure, though as the anger mounts in the wake of protesters’ deaths, that view has started to gain voice.

“I am calling him to go to the television,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a childhood friend of the president’s now living in the United Arab Emirates. “The people still respect him. First, he must deliver his condolences face to face to the people. No. 2, he must say there will be a multiple party system, a free parliamentary election in two months from now.”

Mr. Qurabi, the chairman of the human rights group, said that more than two dozen protesters were killed Friday, including 20 in the tiny southern village of Sanamayn, 4 in Latakia, 3 in Homs and 3 in the greater Damascus area. Mr. Qurabi blamed live ammunition for all those deaths on Friday.

“The protest in Sanamayn was very, very, very big,” Mr. Qurabi said in a phone call from Cairo, where he is attending a conference. “They killed them in the streets because there is not even really a square for the people to protest in.”

People in Syria were far more reluctant to speak, including one young man who said he had been detained by the police for three days after talking to the news media. “I was talking about the news of the protest with some reporters,” he said in a phone call to Damascus. “The police came for me at about 11:15 on Tuesday morning and took me off the street in front of my house. My phone calls are monitored, and I don’t want to say anything over the phone.”

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

This article “Tension and Grief in Syria After Protests and Deadly Reprisals” originally appeared at The New York Times.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

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