Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Syria
- At least four die as Syrian troops storm besieged mosque
By Richard Osley
Sunday, 1 May 2011
Syrian troops and security officials stepped up their crackdown on anti-government protesters yesterday, killing at least four people as they stormed a besieged mosque at the centre of the uprising.
The military intervention in the southern city of Daraa coincided with the arrests of 11 women during a silent protest in Damascus, and new claims that President Bashar al-Assad's ruling Baath Party had suffered a series of resignations over the bloody way the rebellion is being tackled.
President Assad and his aides were warned again last night by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, that they must show "restraint" in the face of demonstrations.
An organised 90-minute assault on the Omari mosque in Daraa involved at least four tanks, snipers, soldiers with machines guns and paratroopers descending from helicopters. Residents in the town opposed to President Assad's regime had been hiding behind barricades all week as the authorities shut off water supplies, and marksmen reportedly shot at anybody trying to venture out of the building.
Among those killed when troops moved in yesterday was said to be the mosque's imam, Sheik Ahmad Sayasna. The building, now cleared of protesters, was being tightly guarded yesterday evening. Human rights activists from the Syrian group Sawasiah claimed that 560 pro-democracy demonstrators have died at the hands of government forces since mid-March, although the ruling party insists "armed groups" and "terrorists" with no connection to the military have been responsible for many deaths. Families of the dead have reportedly been encouraged to sign documents clearing the army of involvement. Large funerals for those killed have been outlawed.
The toll leapt significantly during clashes on Friday, the bloodiest day in the six-week stand-off, when 65 were reported dead. The rising number led to the women's silent march in Damascus, with banners reading "no to killing".
Protests were also reported in the northern cities of Raqqa and Hama. Scores of men and women are unaccounted for in these regions, although it is not known whether they have been killed or detained. Two veteran opponents of the government, Hassan Abdul Azim, 81, and Omar Qashash, 85, were arrested yesterday. Foreign journalists, meanwhile, remain banned from entering the country.
Death toll rises as Syria crackdown continues
Scores killed on Syria's 'day of rage'
Up to 50 killed by security forces, activists say, as thousands defy government repression to call for freedom in Syria.
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2011 10:13
Dozens of people have been shot dead by Syrian security forces, activists claim, as tens of thousands took part in anti-government rallies dubbed a "day of rage".
Activists said at least 50 protesters were killed across the country on Friday, although Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the death toll.
At least 15 people were reported killed near Deraa where security forces fired on thousands of protesters trying to enter the besieged southern city, sources told Al Jazeera's Rula Amin.
Deraa has been the scene of regular demonstrations since protests against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's rule began last month, but the city has also borne the brunt of weeks of government repression.
The government claims its forces are battling "extremist and terrorist groups in the town" and said two soldiers were killed on Friday.
"Deraa has been under siege since Monday morning. Residents from the surrounding villages were trying to break the siege as they tried to get supplies," our correspondent said.
"They met with hostile security forces who fired at them and we know that at least 15 people were killed.
"One resident told me that people do not have supplies, no communication, the situation is dire and they wonder what the security forces want from the town," or correspondent said.
Protests in Damascus
Protests against Assad took place in most major centres around Syria on Friday, in a repeat of pro-democracy rallies that have become the norm after weekly Muslim prayers. Activists called on protesters to express solidarity with Deraa, where more than 100 people died a week ago.
Friday brought the largest anti-regime protest in the Syrian capital since the protests began last month. Several thousand protesters demonstrated in the conservative Sunni neighbourhood of Midan, many calling for the toppling of the regime, witnesses told Al Jazeera.
After the protesters had dispersed, a small pro-government demonstration took place with demonstrators carrying sticks and chanting: “With our soul and blood, we sacrifice to you Bashar."
Witnesses told the AP news agency that security forces had fired on around 2,000 protesters chanting "God, Syria and freedom only" in the central Damascus neighbourhood of Midan.
Large demonstrations were also reported in the central city of Homs, the coastal cities of Baniyas and Latakia, the northern cities of Raqqa and Hama, and the northeastern town of Qamishli.
The AFP news agency reported that 10,000 turned out in Banias, shouting "liberty, solidarity with Daraa" and "down with the regime."
In Deir Ez-Zor, northeast of the capital, two demonstrators were beaten with batons and electrical cables after 1,000 people emerged from a mosque and were dispersed by security forces, Nawwaf al-Bashir, a human rights activist, told AFP.
According to the the AFP, some 15,000 people turned out in the majority Kurdish city of Qamishli and the surrounding towns, shouting "national unity" and "with our soul and with our blood we will sacrifice ourselves for Daraa," activists said.
'Death and devastation'
Meanwhile, an eyewitness in Deraa, speaking to Al Jazeera on Friday from close to the Omari Mosque that has been a focus for the uprising, described a scene of death and devastation.
He confirmed earlier testimony from a separate source of a split in the military forces sent by Assad to lay siege to the city.
The witness said he had collected the names of the dead from different neighbourhoods and counted 25 bodies in his own area.
"Some areas smell really bad due to the bodies rotting in the street. No one can collect them for fear of being shot," he said, the sound of continuous gunfire audible over the phone. Those bodies which have been collected are being stored in refrigerated lorries, he said.
"Deraa is completely surrounded by tanks and armed troops. There are snipers on the roofs of government buildings and tall buildings. They are hiding behind water tanks and some are even hiding in the minarets of mosques."
The Reuters news agency reported on Friday that a human rights campaigner revealed that makeshift morgues in Deraa contain at least 83 corpses, including women and children.
We counted 83 bodies so far, many stored in refrigerator trucks. Most of the bullets went through heads and chests, indicating that snipers most likely had done the shooting,"Tamer al-Jahamani, a prominent lawyer in Deraa, told Reuters.
UN body calls for Syria crackdown probe
UN human rights body condemns crackdown in Syria and calls for fact-finding mission to Damascus as US imposes sanctions.
Inside Syria's torture chambers: 'This regime is brutal but also stupid'
Adnan, a young Syrian professional in his thirties, tells of his experience as one of hundreds detained in President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on dissent
Robert Fisk: Out of Syria's darkness come tales of terror
Witnesses who fled across the Lebanon border tell our writer what they saw
Friday, 29 April 2011
In Damascus, the posters – in their tens of thousands around the streets – read: "Anxious or calm, you must obey the law." But pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez have been taken down, by the security police no less, in case they inflame Syrians.
There are thieves with steel-tipped rubber coshes on the Damascus airport road at night, and in the terminal the cops ask arriving passengers to declare iPods and laptops. In the village of Hala outside Deraa, Muslim inhabitants told their Christian neighbours to join the demonstrations against the regime – or leave.
Out of the darkness of Syria come such tales.
And they are true. Syrians arriving in Lebanon are bringing the most specific details of what is going on inside their country, of Fifth Brigade soldiers fighting the armed units of Maher Assad's Fourth Brigade outside Deraa, of random killings around Damascus by the ever-growing armed bands of Shabiha ("the mafia") from the Alawite mountains, of massive stocking up of food. One woman has just left her mother in the capital with 10 kilos of pasta, 10 kilos of rice, five kilos of sugar, box after box of drinking water.
In Deraa – surrounded, without electricity or water or supplies – the price of bread has risen 500 per cent and men are smuggling food into the city over the fields at night.
But it is the killings which terrify the people. Are they committed by the Shabiha from the port city of Lattakia – created by the Assad family in the 70s to control smuggling and protection rackets – or by the secret police to sow a fear that might break the uprising against Assad? Or by the murderers who thrive amid anarchy and lawlessness? Three men carrying sacks of vegetables outside Damascus at night were confronted by armed men last week. They refused to stop. So they were executed.
The Syrian government is appealing to the minorities – to the Christians and the Kurds – to stay loyal to the authorities; minorities have always been safe in Syria, and many have stayed away from protests against the regime. But in the village of Hala, Christian shops are shut as their owners contemplate what are clearly sectarian demands to join in the uprising against Assad. In an attempt to rid Syria of "foreign" influence, the ministry of education has ordered a number of schools to end all English teaching – even banning the names of schools in French and English from school uniforms. Even the kindergarten where the President's two young children are educated has been subject to the prohibitions.
There are bright lights, of course, not least among the brave men and women who are using the internet and Facebook to keep open the flow of information from Syria. The Independent can reveal that a system of committees has been set up across the cities of Syria, usually comprising only 10 or 12 friends who have known and trusted each other for years. Each of them enlists 10 of their own friends – and they persuade 10 more each – to furnish information and pictures. Many were put in touch with each other via the cyber kings of Beirut – many of them also Syrian – and thus "circles of trust" have spread at the cost of the secret police snooping that has been part of Syrian life for four decades.
Thus there now exist – in Damascus alone – "The Co-ordination of Douma", "The Co-ordination of al-Maydan" (in the centre of the city), "The Co-ordination of Daraya", "The Co-ordination of Harasta" and others. Some of them are trying to penetrate the mukhabarat secret police, to get the brutal cops to work for them on the grounds that – come the end of the Assad regime, if that end ever comes – they will be spared the trials and revenge punishments to come. One Beirut blogger says that several of the cops have already declared themselves for the uprising – but are unwilling to trust them in case it is a trap to discover the identity of those behind the committees.
Yet Syrians in Lebanon say that the Syrian security police – often appointed through graft rather than any technical or detective abilities – simply do not understand the technology that is being used against them. One Syrian security official sent three Facebook posts. The first said: "God, Syria and Bashar al-Assad or nothing." The second read: "It's the time to declare war for Allah." The third announced: "The legacy of God on earth is an Islamic Republic."
Hundreds quit Syria's ruling party to protest crackdown
Mutiny in the Syrian army?
With increasing military defections, the Syrian regime's violent crackdown may have backfired, analyst says.
Something is surely happening in Deraa city, something that, in common parlance, is often referred to as a "massacre".
To be specific: a massacre of unarmed civilians by security forces and soldiers working for the Assads: Syria’s ruling crime family.
The inhabitants of Deraa have told horrifying stories of streets strewn with the bodies of the dead that residents are unable to retrieve for fear of meeting the same fate.
They also spoke of living in complete darkness and destitution as basic services, including water and electricity, having been cut off by the invading Assad armies, who continue to lay siege to the city preventing the arrival of much needed food and medical supplies.
Still, the eyewitnesses we have managed to talk to tell of brave stories of people defying army tanks with stones, and smuggling food and water from the nearby Palestinian refugee camps.
The Palestinians may not have Syrian citizenship, but have been living here since 1948. In fact, most have been born here, and to them Deraa residents are brothers, and the idea of taking a neutral stance vis-à-vis current developments seems unconscionable.
But the fog of war overlaying the city is also giving birth to addicting reports of mutiny in the ranks, pitting one army division against another.
The reports tell of a few defections from the ranks of the 5th Division mushrooming into a full-fledged mutiny, when few high-ranking officers decided that defecting is not enough and that they had a duty to protect the city and its unarmed residents from the vicious assault of pro-Assad troops making up the 4th Division and lead by none other than Maher Al-Assad, the brother of the titular president.
The reports do not stop here, but go on to tell of the capture or at least trapping of Maher al-Assad, and one Rustom Ghazali, the acting chief of political security assigned to deal with the protests in Deraa.
Al Jazeera even aired eyewitness testimony confirming some aspects of this, while the Syrian opposition channel, Barada TV, seemed to endorse the reports as factual. Facebook chat groups are naturally abuzz at this stage.
Considering the volatility of the current situation and the fact that these kind of reports are not exactly unusual in these circumstances, one is tempted to dismiss them in their entirety.
Deraa: A city under a dark siege
Residents of town besieged by the army paint picture of chaos fuelled by secret police.
Hugh Macleod and a special correspondent Last Modified: 28 Apr 2011 03:21
Secret police detain more than 500 as Syria defies Western threats
Brutal security forces move in as government refuses to be cowed by warning of international sanctions
By Khalid Ali in Damascus and Rupert Cornwell in Washington
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Robert Fisk: If the rumours and conspiracies are true, then President Assad's regime is on the road to civil war
If the dead soldiers are victims of revenge killings, it means the opposition is prepared to use force
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Every night, Syrian state television is a horror show. Naked corpses with multiple bullet wounds, backs of heads sliced off. All Syrian soldiers, the television insists, murdered by "the treacherous armed criminal gangs" near Deraa.
One of the bodies – of a young officer in his twenties – has had his eyes gouged out. "Knives and sharp tools" appear to have been used on the soldiers, the commentary tells us. There seems no doubt that the bodies are real and little doubt that they are indeed members of the Syrian "security" forces – the word security needs to be placed in inverted commas these days – nor that the weeping, distraught parents in the background are indeed their families.
Pictures show the bodies, newly washed for burial, taken from the Tishrin Military Hospital in Damascus. Their names are known. Mohamed Ali, Ibrahim Hoss, Ahmed Abdullah, Nida al-Hoshi, Basil Ali, Hazem Mohamed Ali, Mohamed Alla are all carried in flag-draped coffins from the army's mortuary by military police. They are from Tartous, Banias, Aleppo, Damascus. When al-Hoshi's funeral cortege was passing up the Mediterranean coast road to the north, they were ambushed by "an armed gang".
It's easy to be cynical about these dreadful pictures and the gloss put on their deaths. Shooting at funerals, after all, has hitherto been the prerogative of the government's armed cops rather than "armed gangs". And Syrian television has shown not a single dead civilian or civilian funeral after the death of perhaps 320 demonstrators in more than a month. Another 20 were reported killed around Deraa yesterday.
But these reports are important. For if the dead soldiers are victims of revenge killings by outraged families who have lost their loved ones at the hands of the secret police, it means that the opposition is prepared to use force against their aggressors. But if there really are armed groups roaming Syria, then President Bashar al-Assad's Baathist regime is on the road to civil war.
Hitherto, the demonstrators – pro-democracy or anti-Bashar or both – have been giving us the story line; their YouTube footage, internet descriptions, the stunning pictures of Syrian T-72 tanks powering through the streets of Deraa – not to mention the pathetic attempt to attack one with an empty glass bottle – have dominated our perception of the all-powerful dictatorship crushing its people in blood. And truth lies behind what they say. After the 1982 slaughter in Hama, no one is in any doubt that Syrian Baathists play by Hama rules. But their explanation for the daily series of macabre pictures on state television also lacks conviction. According to those bravely trying to telephone news out of Syria – although not from Deraa, where the telephones and internet have been completely shut down – the mutilated bodies are those of troops who refused to shoot at their own people and who were immediately punished by execution and mutilation by
the shabiha, the "hoodlums" of Alawi fighters, and then cynically displayed on television to back up false government claims it is fighting an armed insurgency and that the people of Deraa themselves had invited the army into their city to save them from "terrorists".
Which sounds a little like the flip-side of the government's own propaganda. Of course, the Syrian authorities have only themselves to blame for their lack of credibility. Having cited "foreign plots" – the explanation of all the region's potentates when their backs are to the wall – the authorities have studiously banned all foreign journalists from entering Syria to prove or disprove these claims. The ministry of tourism has even been sent a list of Middle East correspondents by the ministry of interior to ensure that no reporters slip into Syria with a sudden desire to study the Roman ruins of Palmyra.
Thus history is written in rumours which begin, I suppose, with the last words displayed on Syrian television's evening news: "Martyrs Never Die." Clearly they do expire, but which martyrs are we talking about? A good tale from Deraa – one without a shred of evidence so far – is that after tanks of the Fourth Army Brigade of Maher Assad (little brother of the President) stormed into the city, elements of the regular army's Fifth Brigade near Deraa – supposedly commanded by an officer called Rifai, although even this is in dispute – turned their guns on Maher's invaders. But the Fifth, so the story goes, has no tanks and includes air force personnel who are not allowed to fly their jets.
So are there now armed civilians – an oxymoron that seems lost on the regime – now fighting back in a systematic fashion? In Lebanon, whose capital is closer to Damascus that Deraa, there is growing fear that this bloodshed is only two hours away by road. Syria's friends in Lebanon are now claiming that the Saudis – allies of the outgoing government in Beirut – have been subventing the revolution in Syria.
One former minister produced on television copies of cheques for $300,000 (£180,000) supposedly carrying the signature of Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz, the former Saudi intelligence head – and in that capacity once on good terms with a certain Osama bin Laden – and brother of King Abdullah, and given to Lebanese political figures to instil unrest in Syria. One of those accused of involvement by Syria is the former Lebanese minister Mohamed Beydoun. The latter has said that his accusers are guilty of "incitement to murder" and Prince Turki has indignantly called the cheques "false". But the Syrian-supported Hezbollah has now endorsed the claim and at least one Lebanese MP, Ahmed Fatfat, has at last uttered the fateful words. By these accusations against the "Future Movement" – the largest grouping in the outgoing government – he said, "the Hezbollah and its crew are preparing the way for civil war in Lebanon".
Now the Syrian media have pointed the finger at Lebanese MP Okab Sadr, stating that he had been arrested – along with "Israeli officers" – in the Syrian city of Banias. In fact, Mr Sadr is safe in Lebanon where he has emerged to say that the only reason he would go to Banias would be to give blood at the hospital to its inhabitants.
In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli this Friday, pro and anti-Assad supporters plan to hold further and larger demonstrations after morning prayers. Many Lebanese in the north fear that in the event of a civil conflict inside Syria, Tripoli will become a "capital" of northern Syria, though whether it would be a rebel or an Assad stronghold is open to question.
Somewhat more disturbing right now – and much nearer the truth – is that Ali Aid, a rather tough character from the Jebel Mohsen area of the Alawi mountains of Syria, has left his son Rifaat in charge of his proto-militia movement. He has instead built himself a fine villa next to the Syrian-Lebanese border. The problem is that Major Ali Aid is living in his new home – which lies on the Lebanese side of the frontier.
Syria's crackdown on protesters becomes dramatically more brutal
Tanks and troops enter towns and villages for the first time as scores of people are reportedly killed across Syria
Katherine Marsh in Damascus, Matthew Taylor and Haroon Siddique
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 April 2011 20.02 BST
Syria's unrest: Between myth and reality
Syrian authorities blame foreign conspirators and Salafists, but analysts say the uprising is spontaneous.
Cajsa Wikstrom Last Modified: 24 Apr 2011 15:21
Syrian forces raid homes to quell protests
Two MPs resign over deadly crackdown on protesters as human rights monitors report dozens arrested in overnight swoop.
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2011 10:16
Syrian opposition figure arrested in Homs
Mahmuod Issa held while students in Aleppo reportedly stage protest, a day after ministry says rallies must be licensed.
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2011 14:07
'Giving with one hand, taking with the other'
The Syrian president has promised to lift emergency law but many doubt this will end human rights abuses.
Hugh Macleod and a reporter in Syria Last Modified: 18 Apr 2011 15:09
Assad must go: the world unites against Syria's tyrant
By David Usborne, US Editor and Oliver Wright
Friday, 19 August 2011
More than five months after the beginning of Syria's popular uprising, Barack Obama dramatically increased the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad yesterday, uniting the western world behind a demand that the dictator step down from power and end the assault on his own people.
It was the first time that the United States had issued an explicit demand for Mr Assad to leave office. The statement from Mr Obama, which comes at the end of a week in which the Syrian regime has deployed gunships to shell protesters in Latakia, was part of a coordinated action involving similar moves from Britain, France, Germany and Canada, as well as the European Union and the United Nations.
UN Security Council urged to act on Syria
UN rights chief asks council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court after Obama urges Assad to step down.
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2011 23:21
Assad must step down, says Obama
Assad says Syrian operations have stopped
President tells UN chief that security forces have halted operations, but witnesses report sustained military presence.
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2011 04:54
Military and police operations against protesters in Syria have stopped, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the world body said in a statement.
But there was still a strong military presence in neighbourhoods across the country, Al Jazeera's sources said on Thursday.
Assad's announcement comes ahead of a UN Security Council meeting later on Thursday at which the UN's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, could call for Syria's crackdown on protesters to be referred to the International Criminal Court, according to diplomats.
In a phone call with Assad on Wednesday, Ban "expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria, including in the al-Ramel district of Latakia, home to several thousands of Palestinian refugees," the United Nations said in a statement.
"The secretary-general emphasised that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped," the statement added.
Pillay, head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is expected to address the 15-nation Security Council in a closed-door session on Syria on Thursday, along with UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.
Pillay will say a "thorough appropriate international investigation is needed," said a diplomat speaking to Reuters anonymously, adding that Pillay was "likely to suggest that the ICC would be appropriate".
"OHCHR [Pillay's office] have indicated that their Syria report will find evidence that Syria has committed grave
violations of international human rights law in its actions dealing with protesters over the past five months," the diplomat said.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh, reporting from Ramtha on the Syria-Jordan border on Thursday, said there were reports of sustained military presence across the country.
"In Latakia, we were told that heavy gunfire was heard in one of the neighbourhoods there in the early hours of the morning ... In the Qunaines neighbourhood we were told that troops raided the area and made mass arrests there; and two helicopters were seen flying over al-Ramel al-Janoubi neighbourhood, with fresh arrests there."
In other areas, including Deir ez-Zor, Deraa and areas around Damascus, Shamayleh said there were reports of tanks present, military checkpoints, and arrests made.
Syrians who spoke to Al Jazeera "don't buy these statements that operations have stopped," Shamayleh said.
"They are very sceptical of them. They don't think the military operations are going to stop because they don't think that their revolution, as they say, is going to stop."
"They are going to continue to organise protests. They are even uniting under what they described as the High Commission for the Syrian Revolution ... one umbrella that will basically organise the protests in all the provinces."
The government's crackdown in Syria is estimated to have killed around 2,000 civilians since the protests began in March.
Defying international calls
Elsewhere on Thursday, Switzerland said it was recalling its ambassador to Syria and it condemned the violence perpetrated by security forces against civilians.
"The actions of the Syrian security forces are not acceptable," the country's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Assad's government has defied international calls for an end to the repressive measures employed by security forces to suppress the five-month-old uprising.
In comments carried on the state-run news agency, Assad told members of the ruling Baath Party that Syria would not give up its "dignity and sovereignty".
The government insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out "terrorist groups" it says are creating unrest in the country.
According to activists, Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops, snipers and warships in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas.
Samir al-Nashar, a Syrian opposition activist who headed the Secretariat of the Damascus Declaration - a statement of unity by Syrian opposition in 2005 - told Al Jazeera "President Bashar al-Assad is no longer enjoying any support in the country, except the military and the presidency people in Syria."
"Syria now is on the verge of a historic change and Syria will move into a democratic regime during which the choice and the decision lies with the Syrian people."
The government's assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in August, with hundreds reported killed and thousands arrested.
"Aleppo witnessed yesterday [Wednesday] huge demonstrations from the city, demonstrations that went through 3km with thousands of participants," al-Nashar said, adding that "thugs and mobs" had tried to occupy the square and form a rift between the demonstrators.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees, a group that documents anti-regime protests, said security forces killed nine people on Wednesday night in Homs.
Syria-based rights activist Muhannad al-Hassani said that Assad's crackdown also killed nine people elsewhere in Syria on Wednesday, the AP reported.
Activists said that security forces were continuing their assaults on Deir ez-Zor and in areas of the coastal city of Latakia, despite state media reports of troop withdrawals on Wednesday.
The reports were also disputed by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, who on Wednesday said Syrian soldiers were still in Deir ez-Zor and other towns.
Dozens of people are reported to have been killed in Deir ez-Zor and Latakia since the weekend.
Hundreds of detainees corralled into Latakia stadium
Published: Aug 18, 2011 00:28 Updated: Aug 18, 2011 00:28
AMMAN: Syrian troops raided houses in a Sunni district of the besieged port of Latakia on Wednesday, residents said, arresting hundreds of people and taking them to a stadium after a four-day tank assault to crush protests against President Bashar Assad.
Assad forces attacked Al-Raml Al-Filistini (Palestinian sand), named after a refugee camp built in the 1950s, at the weekend, as part of a campaign to crush a five-month uprising, which has intensified against major urban centers of protest since the start of Ramadan on Aug. 1.
"Shelling and the sound of tank machine guns are subdued today. They are bussing hundreds to the Sports City from Al-Raml. People who are picked up randomly from elsewhere in Latakia are also being taken there," said a resident, referring to a complex that was venue for the Mediterranean Games in the 1980s.
"Tanks are continuing to deploy, they are now in the main Thawra (revolution) Street," said the resident, a university student who did not want to be identified.
A diplomat in the Syrian capital said: "The reports about detention conditions and torture are increasingly alarming. Assad is backing himself more into a corner by using more and more violence and turning more Syrians against him."
Violence elsewhere in the country left four people dead. In a village in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, security forces shot dead a man standing on his balcony, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In Homs, a sniper shot dead a civilian in its Armenian neighborhood, while security forces conducting raids in the city of central Syria shot dead two men and wounded three others, the Observatory added.
The United Nations on Wednesday said it had withdrawn all nonessential staff from Syria. "We have pulled more than 20 personnel out of Syria, all of whom are nonessential United Nations staff," said the office of UN Lebanon representative Michael Williams.
The UN Security Council on Thursday will hold a special session on Syria, with the participation of the UN's Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.
The Tunisian government recalled its ambassador in Syria for "consultations," a Foreign Ministry source said in Tunis.
"Given the dangerous situation in Syria, the Tunisian government has decided to recall its ambassador in Damascus for consultations," the official TAP news agency quoted a ministry source as saying.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the situation in Syria with that in Libya, where the opposition have been fighting forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi since February.
"We have done our best on Libya, but haven't been able to generate any results. So it's an international issue now. Qaddafi could not meet our expectations, and the outcome was obvious," Erdogan told reporters.
"Now the same situation is going on in Syria. I've sent my foreign minister, and personally got in touch many times, the last of them three days ago on the phone. In spite of all this, civilians are still getting killed."
Russia, however, said it would maintain arms sales to Syria despite US pressure because the United Nations had failed to impose sanctions against Assad's regime.
Anatoly Isaikin, director of Rosoboronexport, Russia's state weapons exporter, said his organization was under contract to provide Syria with arms for as long as such sales remained legal under international law.
Turkish FM: 'Syrian army still in key towns'
Witnesses dispute government reports that security operations have ended in Deir ez-Zor and areas of Latakia.
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2011 06:42
Military assault continues in Latakia
Security forces open fire, residents say, while activist group puts death toll in the northern port city at 35.
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2011 15:30
Assad targets Palestinian refugees
Published: Aug 15, 2011 23:27 Updated: Aug 15, 2011 23:33
BEIRUT: More than 5,000 Palestinian refugees have fled a camp in the besieged Syrian city of Latakia after President Bashar Assad's forces shelled the city during a broad military assault to root out dissent, the UN said Monday.
Horrors in Hama
A trainee doctor tells of the bloodshed he witnessed during the Syrian army's siege of the city of Hama.
Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand Last Modified: 14 Aug 2011 14:44
Syrian forces 'shell Latakia' for third day
Activists say 29 killed since operation began, while troops and tanks reportedly move into towns in Homs province.
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2011 09:46
Syria violence spreads to commercial capital Aleppo
Two people killed as government forces launch raid on country's second city
Martin Chulov in Beirut and Nour Ali
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 August 2011 19.36 BST
Syria's uprising spread into the country's commercial hub of Aleppo today, where two people died during rare government raids, which also saw at least 13 protesters killed in other towns and cities.
The foray into Aleppo, which remains a stronghold of the regime, came as observers outside Syria began to question whether five months of violence and implacable defiance had now reached a tipping point for Bashar al-Assad and the ruling Ba'ath party.
The mood in the country's second city has long been considered a key barometer of the regime's standing inside the country it has ruled with ruthless control for more than four decades.
"If [Aleppo] turns, the Assads have lost Damascus," said one western official. "It is very important to them. It is the only part of the country where the economy has remained relatively resolute."
Across the country, security forces today were widely reported to have opened fire near people as they emerged from mosques and public gathering places, in a bid to deny them a chance to organise after weekly prayers.
The Muslim prayer day of Friday has become the most volatile day of each week, since the uprising began in March – and this was no different, with demonstrators turning out in large numbers in many cities.
"In many places they started to shoot and use teargas the moment prayer ended," said Razan Zeitouneh, a lawyer and activist based in Damascus, from where she monitors the protest movement. "We noticed they used gunfire everywhere, as well as thugs with batons in many places."
Deir Ezzor, in the north-east of the country, was under siege for a third consecutive day, as were the battered cities of Homs and Hama along the western border with Lebanon. The regime regards all three predominantly Sunni Muslim towns as hostile and continues to claim that foreign-backed extremists inside them are driving ever-escalating violence.
Aleppo is also a largely Sunni city, with a sizeable Christian minority, but its residents are mainly middle-class, with strong links to Turkey and considered to be more invested in the ruling Allawite sect.
"There were protests today in the rural areas but also in at least three central neighbourhoods, which is new," said one man who lives near the Aleppo district of Sakhour. "The one in Sakhour was 1,000 people at most but there is lots of security in Aleppo so this is a good size."
"Unrest has been growing in Aleppo during Ramadan because more people are going to prayers and can gather to protest," said a second activist in Aleppo. "Then the increased violence here and in other cities has made people angrier, too. Opposition is slowly increasing here."
At least 257 people have been killed nationwide during the past 11 days, which has seen a renewed push by the military to crush anti-regime protests.
Dissent also continues to mount in the international community, which has struggled to counter a regime that shows little sign of withdrawing its military from civilian areas, despite months of increasingly vehement criticism. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton intensified calls for an economic boycott of Syria, urging countries to "get on the right side of history" and stop buying oil from and selling weapons to regime figures.
Russia and China have continued to stand alongside their ally, but the Arab League this week rounded on Damascus and tensions sharply increased with Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
One western official in Beirut said a point of no return for Mr Assad had drawn nearer this week, with the embattled autocrat unable to convince friend or foe that he had a solution for the instability that threatens to end the uncontested four-decade rule of the Assad clan.
During that time, Syria has become entrenched as a strategic key to the region's fortunes and regional and western observers increasingly fear a drastic increase in volatility throughout the Middle East if Mr Assad were to fall.
"Syria has networks and influence on all of its borders," said a second diplomat in Beirut. "This is where they have leverage – in uncertainty. As the regime continues down this misguided path, things have a very real risk of going badly for many of its neighbours."
Nour Ali is the pseudonym of a journalist based in Damascus
Syrian troops fire as thousands protest Assad
By ZEINA KARAM | AP
Published: Aug 12, 2011 21:34 Updated: Aug 12, 2011 22:58
'Dozens dead' in Syria after Friday protests
Activists say 20 people killed in government attempt to put down demonstrations from Damascus to Deir ez-Zor.
Last Modified: 13 Aug 2011 08:19
Syrian security forces 'fire' at protesters
Syrian security forces reportedly kill 11 people after shootings in Deir ez-Zor, Idlib and Deraa.
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2011 03:31
Syria's isolation grows after taking control of siege cities
By Khalid Ali
Thursday, 11 August 2011
Syria defiant as diplomatic pressure grows
Syrian envoy to UN slams Western 'hypocrisy' as US tightens sanctions and Assad admits 'mistakes' by security forces.
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2011 00:34
Turkey raises pressure on Syria
Ahmet Davutoglu holds six hours of talks in Damascus but Assad says forces will continue to pursue "terrorists".
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2011 02:16
Syria ‘heading to point of no return’
Published: Aug 9, 2011 23:40 Updated: Aug 9, 2011 23:44
Syria protests: Troops renew attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators
Crackdown comes as President Bashar al-Assad rejects Turkish appeals to change tack or face fate of Muammar Gaddafi
Ian Black and Nour Ali
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 9 August 2011 19.00 BST
Syrian death toll rises as Arab states protest
Total killed during Syrian uprising passes 2,000 as President Bashar al-Assad defies international pressure
Military assaults continue across Syria
Reports of seven deaths in Hama and Idlib province as the Turkish foreign minister meets President Assad in Damascus.
Last Modified: 09 Aug 2011 10:54
Syria's neighbours building a coalition against Assad's government
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that his country's patience with Syria has run out, and that the events taking place in Syria constituted an "internal matter" to Turkey.
Saudi Arabia calls for Syrian reforms
King Abdullah recalls ambassador from Damascus as activists report renewed artillery fire in the city of Deir ez-Zor.
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2011 12:05
Syrians take to streets over Hama massacre as outrage grows
Demonstrators gather in cities across the country while Bashar al-Assad's troops continue shelling residential areas
Mark Tran and Paul Owen
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 August 2011 19.51 BST
Dozens reported dead during Syria protests
Activists say 24 protesters killed on Friday, as Western nations condemn President Assad for "indiscriminate violence".
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2011 08:47
Reports: Syrian army intensifies Hama assault
Friday protests across the nation, a day after Assad announces political concessions and US says he has lost legitimacy.
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2011 18:44
I saw massacre of children, says defecting Syrian air force officer
As UN envoy warns of all-out war, a major has provided crucial evidence on the Houla killings
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 2 June 2012 20.59 BST
A senior Syrian military officer has described how he defected to opposition forces after witnessing hundreds of pro-regime militiamen carry out the now infamous massacre of more than 100 civilians in the town of Houla one week ago.
The account of Major Jihad Raslan comes as the United Nations' special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, yesterday warned of an increasing risk of imminent war in Syria. "The spectre of an all-out war with an alarming sectarian dimension grows by the day," Annan told an Arab League gathering.
His concerns follow warnings delivered on Friday by the United States, Britain and the UN Human Rights Council, which voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Syrian regime for the Houla killings.
The killing of so many civilians, among them 49 children and at least 20 women, continues to galvanise international anger against regime officials and their loyalist militias, which have widely been blamed for what took place.
Raslan served until last Saturday in the Syrian Air Force in the strategically vital port city of Tartous. He had been in Houla on leave when the town was shelled just after 1pm last Friday, then invaded by a civilian militia, known as the Shabiha, in the worst single atrocity of the Syrian uprising.
The officer's account to the Observer of what took place is among the most important of the testimonies to have emerged since the massacre, the aftermath of which appears to be causing fresh turmoil inside Syria 16 months after the first stirrings of revolt inspired by the Arab spring.
Raslan said he was in his house, around 300 metres from the site of the first massacre in the village of Taldous, when several hundred men whom he knew to be Shabiha members rode into town in cars and army trucks and on motorbikes.
"A lot of them were bald and many had beards," he said. "Many wore white sports shoes and army pants. They were shouting: 'Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad.' It was very obvious who they were.
"We used to be told that armed groups killed people and the Free Syria Army burned down houses," he said. "They lied to us. Now I saw what they did with my own eyes."
He said the killings in his area were over in around 15 minutes. However, the rampage in other parts of Houla continued until the early hours of Saturday, according to eye-witnesses and survivors.
"Those victims who were slaughtered are people that I knew well," Raslan said. "These children I knew well, personally. I ate with their families. I had social ties with them. The regime cannot lie about these people, who they were and what they did to them. It was a brutal act by the regime against people who were with the revolution," he said.
Raslan said that he served on a missile base in Tartous, removed from the grinding everyday savagery of Syria's uprising. "I knew they had been lying, but I had not been exposed to the effects of it. This was the first time I had seen anything like this."
He said defections had increased sharply in the days following the massacre and he claimed to know of five defectors who were shot dead as they tried to flee through olive groves not far from Houla the day after the killings.
"Many more want to leave," he said, "but they can't. All holidays have been cancelled by the military. It is a very serious risk if anyone tries to flee now. I was only allowed to go on leave because of exceptional family circumstances."
A second defector from Houla, a first lieutenant who was serving in nearby Homs city last weekend, said that Houla had changed the thinking of soldiers and officers like him who did not support the regime crackdown on dissent but had been too afraid to leave.
The lower ranks of the Syrian military are largely made up of Sunni Muslims, who account for around 70% of Syria's population and who now dominate all ranks of the Free Syria Army.
Senior officers in the loyalist military are mostly drawn from the Alawite sect, which uses an uncompromising police state to maintain its iron-clad grip on Syrian society.
"There were no Sunni soldiers around Houla itself [when the massacre took place]," the former officer said. "They are all Alawites there, the officers and the soldiers. "[Houla] is a very sensitive area. Many of the Shabiha in Syria come from here. They won't defect from here."
The officer said he had regularly seen Shabiha groups work alongside regime forces, but said they appeared to take orders from intelligence officers, particularly the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, which has played a frontline role in the regime crackdown. "The military give them weapons and cover, and escort them in tanks," he said. "But they sometimes work independently."
Few cracks have appeared among Assad's core support base, with the upper ranks of the military remaining supportive of the crackdown, which is being portrayed by Damascus as a battle against foreign-backed Sunni jihadists who are trying to overthrow the regime.
"In other places away from Houla, it is not impossible that the Alawites might defect," the officer said. "They are starting to be worried now, starting to fear that Bashar [al-Assad] might leave.
"I want to get my two brothers to leave. It is a very sensitive, dangerous situation for my family. Everyone is at risk. From the beginning we knew that they were lying. Everything was a lie. But my family is the most important thing. We need to protect each other."
Shelling has continued on most days since the massacre and Raslan said Houla residents believed that regime forces were targeting houses where massacres had taken place. "They want to destroy the evidence," he said. "They want to kill the witnesses."
Assad claims he is a 'surgeon' trying to save a patient
DONALD MACINTYRE MONDAY 04 JUNE 2012
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad yesterday confronted critics of the bloodshed caused by the ferocious crackdown on opponents of his regime by comparing himself to a surgeon amputating limbs to save a patient.
Mr Assad again blamed imperialist "foreign meddling" for the 15-month uprising against his regime which opposition leaders claim has seen 13,000 deaths. He also dismissed the widespread accusations that his forces and allied militias were responsible for the Houla massacre 10 days ago in which more than 100 people were killed, including many young children.
In his first speech to parliament since January – and his first public statement since the Houla deaths prompted a fresh round of outrage – Mr Assad showed no sign of bowing to international pressure to seek a compromise with the country's rebel leaders.
Instead, he complained that his opponents had ignored his reform proposals. "We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism," he warned.
"When a surgeon in an operating room ... cuts and cleans and amputates, and the wound bleeds, do we say to him your hands are stained with blood?" he said in his televised speech. "Or do we thank him for saving the patient?"
He added that the efforts to oust him as President were not "a political problem" but a "project to destroy the country... The issue is terrorism. We are facing a real war waged from the outside."
The UN Security Council last week unanimously condemned the regime for the Houla massacre, but Mr Assad disavowed any responsibility, declaring: "What happened in Houla and elsewhere [in Syria] are brutal massacres which even monsters would not have carried out."
He added: "If we don't feel the pain that squeezes our hearts, as I felt it, for the cruel scenes – especially the children – then we are not human beings."
Western powers led by the US have attempted to use the outrage over Houla to persuade Russia, Syria's most pivotal ally, to exert more pressure on the Assad regime to play its part in ending the conflict. But although Russia voted for the original UN declaration which said the massacre had "involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood", its foreign ministry insisted yesterday that it was "disturbed that some countries went ahead and cast blame" ahead of an official investigation.
In neighbouring Lebanon, government troops were deployed in the coastal city of Tripoli yesterday after 15 people were killed in fighting between supporters and opponents of the Syrian President.
The conflict was seen as an indication that what is fast threatening to become a full-scale civil war in Syria could yet spread beyond its borders.
Reuters reported that Tripoli residents said relative calm had returned after Lebanese soldiers took up positions at around 7am in the aftermath of exchanges of machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades between Sunni Muslims and members of the same Alawite minority to which Mr Assad belongs.
Meanwhile, Adib Shishkaly, a Saudi Arabia-based member of the Syrian National Council, the country's main opposition group, said Mr Assad's statements on Houla were "lies to justify the killings because of the immense international pressure on his regime".
Rebels killed 80 Syrian soldiers at weekend, says watchdog
Lebanon sends troops to quell deadly clashes
Extra forces deployed to port city of Tripoli after Syria-linked sectarian clashes claim at least 12 lives.
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2012 13:27
Assad: Syria faces real war from outside
Syrian president in address to parliament says country's unrest has taken bloody toll but defends government's actions.
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2012 21:50
President Bashar al-Assad has said Syria is engaged in a "real war" with outside forces and defended political reforms implemented by his government in an address to the parliament in Damascus.
Speaking on Sunday for the first time since last month’s parliamentary elections, Assad said that he would not be lenient on those he blamed for violence in the country.
"We have to fight terrorism for the country to heal," Assad said. "We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism.''
Assad's remarks defied mounting international condemnation of his regime's crackdown on the opposition. He blamed the crisis on outside forces and said the country was passing through its most critical stage since the end of colonialism.
"The masks have fallen and the international role in the Syrian events is now obvious," Assad said, adding that the elections had been the perfect response "to the criminal killers and those who finance them".
Assad admitted the country’s unrest had taken a “bloody toll” and exhausted assets, but said outside forces were responsible.
"Terrorism has undermined us all," he said. "It is a real war waged from outside and dealing with a war is different to dealing with the grievances of Syrian citizens."
He added that there would be "no dialogue" with opposition factions "seeking foreign intervention".
In the speech, Assad blamed terrorists for the recent massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, which opposition activists said was committed by pro-government forces.
At least 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were slaughtered in killings that began on May 25 and continued the next day, triggering international outrage.
"What happened in Houla and elsewhere [in Syria] are brutal massacres which even monsters would not have carried out," Assad said.
Assad said Syria had implemented clear steps towards introducing political reforms in the country and held parliamentary elections on time, despite violence in the country.
"Our country will recover and our citizens will enjoy peace, stability and sovereignty," he said.
He said the staging of the ballot had been a “clear message to those who want Syria to sink in the blood of its citizens”.
"The political process is moving forward, yet terrorism is not going down," Assad said. "Terrorists are not interested in dialogue or reform."
Commenting on the speech, Samir Taki, a former member of the parliament and one-time advisor to Assad, said: "I was surprised by how powerful he was in denying reality. I was surprised by how much he is disconnected."
"He is very much interested in keeping the facade of the regime, of giving the impression that the state is above and beyond auditing and any kind of change.
"His message was very clear: 'I am beyond any question, that everything happening is practically a conspiracy, and there is no way that I could mention that someday I might leave'."
Boy 'survived Houla massacre by playing dead' as mother killed
Pessimism at UN as Syria crisis worsens
Fears voiced as opposition Free Syrian Army says it will stop adhering to truce by Friday if Assad forces ignore it.
Last Modified: 31 May 2012 19:18
13 corpses found in Syria amid massacre fallout
By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press – 4 days ago
BEIRUT (AP) — Thirteen bound corpses, many apparently shot execution-style, have been discovered in eastern Syria just days after the massacre of more than 100 people provoked international outrage and the coordinated expulsion of Syrian diplomats from world capitals.
The latest killings happened in Deir el-Zour province, where the bodies were found late Tuesday blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, U.N. observers said Wednesday. A statement by the U.N. mission said some appeared to have been shot in the head at close range.
A video posted online by activists showed the men lying face down, pools of dried blood under their heads.
The head of the U.N. observer team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, said he was "deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act."
The fresh killings underline violence that seems to be spiraling out of control as the uprising against President Bashar Assad that began in March 2011 has morphed into an armed insurgency. Activists say as many as 13,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.
Syria isolated as Western capitals expel diplomats
Europe and US ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Assad's pariah state
KIM SENGUPTA WEDNESDAY 30 MAY 2012
Robert Fisk: The West is horrified by children's slaughter now. Soon we'll forget
The Algerian FLN regime got away with it, after 200,000 dead – compared to the mere 10,000 killed so far in Syria's war
ROBERT FISK TUESDAY 29 MAY 2012
Syria joins roll call of civilian slaughter
One of the bloodiest civilian massacres in Syria to date that left more than ninety people dead – at least a third of them children
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 27 May 2012 19.33 BST
At noon on Friday, they gathered for their familiar and increasingly futile weekly ritual – an act of peaceable defiance against the regime they loathe. The chants resounded far and wide, audible to the army troops menacingly nearby and to the adjoining Allawite villages largely sympathetic to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. "The Allawites have been hearing our chants for many months," said Houla resident Abu Jaffour. "And neither they, nor the army have liked what we've been saying. Maybe that's why they did what they did."
Three hours later, vengeance rolled into town with a savagery rarely paralleled in the 15-month Syrian uprising. When the shelling and gunfire stopped early on Saturday, more than 90 people had been killed, at least one-third of them children. Some appeared to have been killed at close range as they cowered in barricaded homes.
In a few short hours, the town of Houla joined the sorry list of localities whose names have become synonymous with the merciless slaughter of civilians. Srebrenica. Nyarubuye. My Lai. Up to now, the Syrian conflict has killed 13,000 people. But until this weekend, it had yet to include the mass slaughter of nursery-age infants.
"The shelling started around 3pm," said Abu Jaffour. "I was in the fields at the time and we tried to reach the area being bombed. It took us three hours to get there. When I reached the houses it was dreadful. I was carrying babies' bodies that had parts of their heads hanging out."
The citizen journalists challenging al-Assad
The chilling story of the social media activist who dared to denounce the Syrian regime to a foreign media outlet.
Listening Post Last Modified: 27 May 2012 12:51
Syrian activists condemn Houla 'massacre'
Children among at least 90 people reportedly killed in Homs province, as UN chief calls violence "unacceptable".
Last Modified: 26 May 2012 15:07
90 killed, including 25 children, in Syria's Houla: NGO
(AFP) – May 26, 2012
Assad’s forces executing entire families: UN report
Dozens dead in twin Damascus blasts
At least 55 people killed in pair of explosions near intelligence complex in Syrian capital, interior ministry says.
Last Modified: 10 May 2012 21:28
Syrian forces attack towns, killing 37, opposition activists say
By the CNN Wire Staff
May 4, 2012 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Clinton: With more defections, Syrian regime's 'days are numbered'
By the CNN Wire Staff
July 8, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that "the days are numbered" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"There is no doubt that the opposition is getting more effective in their defense of themselves and in going on the offense against the Syrian military and the Syrian government's militias," Clinton said during a press conference in Tokyo on Sunday.
And with a recent increase in defections from the al-Assad regime, "the sand is running out of the hourglass," Clinton said.
"The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a beginning of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there's a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be very dangerous not only to Syria but to the region," she said.
Clinton, speaking at a Tokyo conference on Afghanistan, acknowledged that a peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan has thus far failed to stymie the bloodbath in Syria that has continued for 16 months.
That violence raged on again Sunday, when at least 30 people were killed across the country, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.
Despite the escalating chaos in Syria that led to the suspension of monitoring activities, the United Nations can continue to play a crucial role in the embattled country, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a report to be presented to the Security Council.
An advance copy of the report, which is circulating among Security Council members, was obtained by CNN ahead of a Wednesday briefing on Syria to the council by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.
The document admits the efforts to implement Annan's peace plan -- which includes a cease-fire and take measures to protect human rights -- has not worked.
In some places, the levels of violence are even higher today than they were before an initial cease-fire attempt, the report says.
Syrian forces bombard Aleppo
Government forces attempt to regain northern area as opposition welcomes news of high-ranking general's defection.
Last Modified: 08 Jul 2012 04:43
Syria's Palestinians flee to Jordan
Influx sparks fears of a population imbalance as rights group criticises host country for discrimination.
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2012 12:33
Human Rights Watch has criticised Jordan for discriminating against Palestinian refugees who have escaped from Syria.
Syrian refugees are allowed to rent homes and work, but Palestinians arriving in Jordan are held at a heavily guarded compound in Ramtha.
Almost half of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin, enjoying Jordanian nationality.
The country now fears that, with the refugee influx, Palestinians could outnumber citizens of Jordanian origin.
Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports from the northern Jordanian city of Ramtha.
Top Syrian general 'defects to Turkey'
Reported escape of Manaf Tlass, leading member of Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, does not mean anything, official says
Julian Borger, and Martin Chulov in Idlib province
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 July 2012 19.39 BST
A Syrian general who was a leading member of Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, Manaf Tlass, has defected to Turkey, according to a Damascus-based website with close links to the regime.
Tlass is a member of the most powerful Sunni family in Syria, and the son of a long-serving former defence minister, Mustafa Tlass, but he was reported to have fallen out of favour in recent months for refusing to take part in attacks on civilian areas regarded as opposition strongholds.
Tlass's defection was reported by Syriasteps, a news website linked to the country's security apparatus. It said that "a highly placed source in intelligence has confirmed that General Manaf Mustafa Tlass has fled to Turkey", and quoted a security official as saying: "His escape does not mean anything."
The defection of such a high-profile figure from a family at the heart of the regime would be a damaging blow to Assad and could provoke more defections, especially among more junior Sunni officers and rank-and-file soldiers. That would serve to weaken the security apparatus, but at the same time sharpen the sectarian nature of the conflict between the Sunni majority and the Alawite minority, from which the ruling family and the military elite are drawn.
A Turkish government official confirmed that two Syrian generals had defected in the past three days, but did not provide names "for their and their families' security".
One of the two generals the official referred to is from an engineering division. The second is believed to be Tlass, who is a general in the Republican Guard.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: "Several sources inside Syria, including Alawite sources close to the regime, have confirmed to me that Manaf Tlass has left the country."
Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, wrote on his Syria Comment blog that Tlass's "Honda had supposedly turned up in the Rukn ad-Din neighbourhood of Damascus, but he was nowhere to be found".
"Manaf Tlass's father and brother, Firas, who is a leading businessman, are believed to be out of the country. The father had gone to Paris on the pretext of getting medical attention. Firas is said to be in Dubai. It is not clear where the women and children of his family are," Landis wrote.
The steady stream of defections are just one sign of the Assad regime's gradually eroding power. A senior British diplomat said it was also losing its grip on territory.
"What is clear is that the regime has lost control of parts of the country, particularly in the east. It's also clear that parts of Damascus have got more difficult for the regime, but we don't have a precise map … but I'm not sure it's true that the opposition are in full control themselves in a coherent way," the diplomat said.
Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said on Thursday he had "solid information and intelligence that members of al-Qaida's terrorist network" have gone to Syria". He added: "Our main concern, to be honest with you, is about the spillover about extremist, terrorist groups taking root in neighbouring countries."
Rebel fighters in Idlib province denied that foreign fighters were a significant factor in the conflict.
"I swear to God that I have not seen one strange Arab here and I've been fighting for more than a year," said Anis Azir, a Free Syrian Army leader in Qurqaniya village. A second guerilla leader, Abu Mahmoud from nearby Athma village, said: "They would not be welcome even if they did come. We know what they represent."
A third rebel leader in Darat Azzah, near Aleppo, was more circumspect. Abu Ahmed, as he preferred to call himself, paused for almost a minute before answering whether al-Qaida would be accepted in his town. "They haven't tried. But we would welcome their weapons."
The senior British diplomat described the role of foreign jihadists as minor but warned that their influence would grow if the international community did not take concerted action against the regime. Russia and China have so far blocked any punitive measures being imposed by the UN security council.
"Our assessment is that the vast majority of people fighting on the opposition side are still Syrians and most are trying to defend their neighbourhoods under intense military pressure," the diplomat said. "But it's clear that there are some other elements getting into this conflict and what we have consistently said to Russia, China and others is that what they say they want to avoid – a descent into an increasingly sectarian conflict with other players, a breakdown of Syrian society with regional ramifications – the chance of all of that happening increases with every day the conflict continues in its current form."
Hillary Clinton, William Hague and foreign ministers from other western and Arab states are taking part in a "friends of Syria" meeting on Friday to discuss further ways of exerting pressure on Damascus. Gulf states will be asked to impose more sanctions, and western capitals may table a new security council resolution calling for a UN-sponsored peace plan to be backed by global sanctions if Syria does not comply. Western diplomats concede Moscow is likely to veto such a move.
Syrian regime engages in systematic torture, says report
Former detainees have described torture methods and locations of detention centres, according to Human Rights Watch
'Government torture widespread across Syria'
Syrian intelligence agencies are running torture centres across the country where detainees are beaten with batons and cables, burned with acid, sexually assaulted, and their fingernails torn out, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.
6:42AM BST 03 Jul 2012
The New York-based rights group identified 27 detention centres that it says intelligence agencies have been using since President Bashar al-Assad's government began a crackdown in March 2011 on pro-democracy protesters trying to oust him.
Human Rights Watch conducted more than 200 interviews with people who said they were tortured, including a 31-year-old man who was detained in the Idlib area in June and made to undress.
"Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful," the man told Human Rights Watch.
"They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days," he said.
The report found that tens of thousands of people had been detained by the Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate.
World powers agree to Syria transition plan
UN-brokered peace pact leaves open whether President Bashar al-Assad could be part of a proposed "unity" government.
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2012 07:08
Syria transition plan denounced by both sides
State media and opposition groups criticise UN-brokered plan for unity government, as violence continues across country.
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2012 18:45
Syria Alawites face mistrust from opposition
Some Alawites working against President Bashar al-Assad, himself an Alawite, are still viewed as spies.
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2012 16:56
Syrian activists from the Alawite sect of Shia Islam, many who have been working with the Syrian opposition, have been fleeing across the border to Turkey to escape mistrust in their homeland.
In some cases, even Alawites who support the Sunni-majority opposition are viewed by their counterparts as spies or agents of the government.
According to one Alawite activist living in Turkey, many Alawites have stayed silent out of fear for their lives.
President Bashar al-Assad, from a prominent Alawite family, often projects himself as protector of the sect and other religious minorities, and warns that they would face discrimination if the opposition is successful.
The activist said that many Alawites know this is a lie, but can "do nothing".
Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reports from Antakya, Turkey.
Robert Fisk: Western agreement 'could leave Syria in Assad's hands for two more years'
Special Report: Need for oil routes buys time, claims key Damascus figure
ROBERT FISK FRIDAY 29 JUNE 2012
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria may last far longer than his opponents believe – and with the tacit acceptance of Western leaders anxious to secure new oil routes to Europe via Syria before the fall of the regime. According to a source intimately involved in the possible transition from Baath party power, the Americans, Russians and Europeans are also putting together an agreement that would permit Assad to remain leader of Syria for at least another two years in return for political concessions to Iran and Saudi Arabia in both Lebanon and Iraq.
For its part, Russia would be assured of its continued military base at Tartous in Syria and a relationship with whatever government in Damascus eventually emerges with the support of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia’s recent concession – that Assad may not be essential in any future Syrian power structure – is part of a new understanding in the West which may accept Assad’s presidency in return for an agreement that prevents a further decline into civil war.
Information from Syria suggests that Assad’s army is now “taking a beating” from armed rebels, who include Islamist as well as nationalist forces; at least 6,000 soldiers are now believed to have been murdered or killed in action since the rebellion against Assad began 17 months ago. There are even unconfirmed reports that during any one week up to a thousand Syrian fighters are under training by mercenaries in Jordan at a base used by Western authorities for personnel seeking ‘anti-terrorist’ security exercises.
The US-Russian negotiations – easy to deny, and somewhat cynically hidden behind the current mutual accusations of Hillary Clinton and her Russian opposite number, Sergei Lavrov – would mean that the superpowers would acknowledge Iran’s influence over Iraq and its relationship with its Hezballah allies in Lebanon, while Saudi Arabia – and Qatar - would be encouraged to guarantee Sunni Muslim rights in Lebanon and in Iraq. Baghdad’s emergence as a centre of Shia power has caused much anguish in Saudi Arabia whose support for the Sunni minority in Iraq has hitherto led only to political division.
But the real object of talks between the world powers revolves around the West’s determination to secure oil and particularly gas from the Gulf states without relying upon supplies from Moscow. “Russia can turn off the spigot to Europe whenever it wants – and this gives it tremendous political power,” the source says. “We are talking about two fundamental oil routes to the West – one from Qatar and Saudi Arabia via Jordan and Syria and the Mediterranean to Europe, another from Iran via Shia southern Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and on to Europe. This is what matters. This is why they will be prepared to let Assad last for another two years, if necessary. They would be perfectly content with that. And Russia will have a place in the new Syria.”
Diplomats who are still discussing these plans should, of course, be treated with some scepticism. It is one thing to hear political leaders excoriating the Syrian regime for its abuse of human rights and massacres – quite another to realise that Western diplomats are quite prepared to put this to one side for the proverbial ‘bigger picture’ which, as usual in the Middle East, means oil and gas supplies. They are prepared to tolerate Assad’s presence until the end of the crisis, rather than insisting his departure is the start of the end. The Americans apparently say the same. Now Russia believes that stability is more important than Assad himself.
It is clear that Bashar al-Assad should have gone ahead with extensive reforms when his father Hafez died in 2000. At that stage, according to Syrian officials, Syria’s economy was in a far better state than Greece is today. And the saner voices influencing Assad’s leadership were slowly deprived of their power. One official close to the president called him during the height of last year’s fighting to say that “Homs is burning”. Assad’s reaction was to refuse all personal conversation with the official in future, insisting on only SMS messages. “Assad no longer has personal power over all that happens in Syria,” the informant says. “It’s not because he doesn’t want to – there’s just too much going on all over the country for one man to keep in touch with it all.”
What Assad is still hoping for, according to Arab military veterans, is a solution a-l’Algerie. After the cancellation of democratic elections in Algeria, its army and generals – ‘le pouvoir’ to Algerians – fought a merciless war against rebels and Islamist guerrillas across the country throughout the 1990s, using torture and massacre to retain government power but leaving an estimated 200,000 dead among their own people.
Amid this crisis, the Algerian military actually sent a delegation to Damascus to learn from Hafez el-Assad’s Syrian army how it destroyed the Islamist rebellion in Hama – at a cost of up to 20,000 dead – in 1982. The Algerian civil war – remarkably similar to that now afflicting Assad’s regime – displayed many of the characteristics of the current tragedy in Syria: babies with their throats cut, families slaughtered by mysterious semi-military ‘armed groups’, whole towns shelled by government forces.
And, much more interesting to Assad’s men, the West continued to support the Algerian regime with weapons and political encouragement throughout the 1990s while huffing and puffing about human rights. Algeria’s oil and gas reserves proved more important than civilian deaths – just as the Damascus regime now hopes to rely upon the West’s desire for via-Syria oil and gas to tolerate further killings. Syrians say that Jamil Hassan, the head of Air Force intelligence in Syria is now the ‘killer’ leader for the regime – not so much Bashar’s brother Maher whose 4th Division is perhaps being given too much credit for suppressing the revolt. It has certainly failed to crush it.
The West, meanwhile has to deal with Syria’s contact man, Mohamed Nassif, perhaps Assad’s closest political adviser. The question remains, however, as to whether Bashar al-Assad – however much he fails to control military events on the ground – really grasps the epic political importance of what is going on in his country. Prior to the rebellion, European and Turkish leaders were astonished to hear from him that Sunni forces in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli were trying “to create a Salafist state” that would threaten Syria. How this extraordinary assertion – based, presumably on the tittle-tattle of an intelligence agent – could have formulated itself in Assad’s mind, remained a mystery.
Deadly attack on pro-Assad TV channel
Gunmen kill several employees of Al-Ikhbariya, south of capital, a day after president said Syria "in a state of war".
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2012 15:05
Dozens reported dead in Syria violence
Opposition activists say at least 40 people have died in different places, including Deir Az zor and Homs.
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2012 21:14
Turkey says jet downing cannot be ignored
Turkish military lost contact with an F-4 fighter jet near Syria, which Damascus confirms shooting down.
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2012 19:36
Women under siege: The use of rape as a weapon of war in Syria
By Dr Sima Barmania
Notebook - A selection of Independent views -, Opinion
Tuesday, 19 June 2012 at 5:30 pm
The announcement over the weekend to suspend the activities of UN observers in Syria represents a stark indication of the chaos unfolding within the country, as well as the “escalating violence”.
Furthermore, over the course of the Syrian crisis there has also been horrendous reports of gender based violence.
Last week the organisation Human Rights Watch reported that Syrian government forces have been using sexual violence to facilitate torture of both men and women detainees. In addition, the organisation has also heard testimonies from civilians who have also suffered violence of a sexual nature in their own homes.
Sickeningly, sexualised violence is all too frequently used as a weapon of war in conflict situations, such as had been the case in Rwanda and Darfur.
However, a Women’s Media Center project called Women under Siege is working to document, highlight and publicise sexualised violence in Syria in a visual “crowd map”.
Director of Women under Siege, Lauren Wolfe explains:
“The World Health Organization and the UN Security Council have identified that there remains a crucial lack of analysis about how rape is used as a weapon of war: Its methods, its applications, its fallout are just not easily seen, and therefore not easily fixed”.
However, Wolfe explains that by having a crowd map, where one can report crimes of sexual violence anonymously allows them to “literally put women’s stories of suffering on the map, something that has never been done during a live conflict”.
Although they are not able to independently verify reports, the information has been quite horrifying, she explains:
“One of the things we’ve found at Women Under Siege is that rape in conflict appears to require men to utterly dehumanize the women they rape. It’s a way of conquering the enemy that is so extreme and so base that it allows perpetrators to stop viewing these women as fellow humans, and instead see them as an enemy to be destroyed”.
Looking at the map, with the date and location makes the events seem somewhat more vivid, more real.
One instance recently described is that of the two sisters, 12 and 14 who were beaten and gang-raped by shabiha and Syrian security in their home and was witnessed by their mother and two brothers.
They are also hearing of sexual enslavement and women injected with a substance that renders them paralyzed for the duration of the rape, a gross loss of autonomy.
Wolfe explains that aside from documenting the cases they have also been able to confirm patterns consistent with other human rights organisations such as the rape of women at checkpoints, rape of the male detainees themselves and mass rapes after army shelling.
In the midst of such disgusting and degrading reports of sexualised violence it could be all too easy to be resigned to despondency, but Wolfe remains resolute and unwavering:
“My hope is that Women Under Siege helps us better understand the means, patterns, and motivations behind these mass atrocities. Until we realize that this is a global public health crisis—and a human rights issue for all of us—we’re not going to see the end of it.”
Repression continues in Syria
BEIRUT: Syrian security forces pounded opposition areas across the country yesterday, activists said, adding that at least 23 people had been killed in clashes they say have escalated since international observers suspended their mission.
Activists said artillery had targeted Douma, a town 15 km outside the capital Damascus. The town has for weeks been under the partial control of rebels who have joined the 15-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad.
“We can’t even accurately count the dead because we have so many injured people to treat, there’s no time to think about anything else,” said an activist in Douma who called himself Ziad. “The army attacks all the time. They have tanks, missiles, mortars, and artillery. Even helicopters have fired on us. People can’t escape because the army is surrounding the town.”
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across Syria, said at least 23 people had been killed by midday yesterday, seven of them in Douma. In a sign it fears Syria’s conflict could escalate further, an unnamed Russian naval source said Moscow was preparing to send marines to Syria in the event it needed to protect personnel and remove equipment from its naval facility in Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartous, according to the Interfax news agency.
Russia is one of the Syrian government’s staunchest backers and supports Assad’s argument that foreign-backed terrorists are behind the unrest. Moscow has repeatedly urged Western and Arab countries, who mostly back the rebels, to rein in their support in order to stem the violence. International outrage over Syria has grown in recent weeks after two reported massacres of nearly two hundred civilians.
Heavier fighting and apparent sectarian killings have led many, including the head of UN peacekeeping forces, to brand the violence a civil war.
The international community’s efforts to halt the violence are deadlocked because Russia and China, which both wield vetoes in the Security Council, have blocked tougher action against Assad. They say the solution should be through political dialogue, an approach most of the Syrian opposition rejects.
Western powers have been pushing for stronger measures to be taken against Assad, whose forces have not only used artillery in recent weeks, but helicopter gunships against rebels in civilian areas.
US President Barack Obama is expected to discuss the Syria crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Mexico. But few observers expect a breakthrough.
Relations between Washington and Moscow have further frayed after a week of Cold War-style recriminations over Syria.
The head of the United Nations observation mission, General Robert Mood, is scheduled on Tuesday to brief the UN Security Council in New York on the violence in Syria.
The mission recently halted its operations due to security concerns, and Mood said on Sunday he was worried about civilians trapped in central Homs.
“In Homs attempts to extract civilians form the line of fire over the past week have been unsuccessful,” he said in a statement. “This requires willingness on both sides (of the conflict) to respect and protect the human life of the Syrian people.”
Robert Fisk: Assad will breathe a sigh of relief at death of Arab Spring
The 1991 Algerian parallel is relevant: a poll won by Islamists, special powers for the army, torture
ROBERT FISK SATURDAY 16 JUNE 2012
The end of the Egyptian Revolution? I suppose we could have seen it coming; the marginalisation of the original rebels of Tahrir Square, fobbed off with a few trials, while the military encrusted themselves round the power Mubarak had given them and sopped up his obedient ministers as a façade of civilian rule.
And the Brotherhood – as uninvolved in Tahrir as Ahmed Shafik – moved in to take over after years of clandestinity and government torture. Mubarak's men and the Brotherhood were never represented in Tahrir. "All we want is for Mubarak to go," the young of Egypt used to shout. And that was all. Easy for the "deep state" to resolve. Almost all the top "Stasi" officers were acquitted. The police murderers are still at work. These men are happy with this latest instalment in Egypt's tragedy.
The 1991 Algerian parallel is all too relevant. A democratic poll which the Islamists won, suspension of second-round elections, emergency laws that give the army special powers, torture, the round-up of elected members, savage guerrilla war – give and take a slight variation, only the last two have not yet begun in Egypt. But Algeria was less preposterous: le pouvoir had staged a coup and all who opposed it were "terrorists". This process has also begun in Cairo. The army has been given powers of arrest. These powers are meant to be used.
In Egypt, the holding of a presidential election when the parliamentary power base of one of the candidates, Mohamed Morsi (the Brotherhood) has been dissolved by the supporters of his opponent, Shafik, before the final presidential poll is ridiculous.
A few days ago, Alaa al-Aswany, that fine Egyptian novelist-activist-dentist, predicted a plan already formulated: to massacre the revolutionaries. But this plan would not work, he said, because the return of Shafik, protected by the military, would mean the end of the revolution. But that was then. Now Shafik may well take power – if Morsi loses – without a parliament to control him.
Desperate days, then. But one thing to remember. The Mubarak-appointed Egyptian judges didn't just get up on Thursday morning and decide to dissolve parliament. This was decided a long time ago. So was the retention of military power.
There will be plans ready for this weekend. They may even know the election result. I dare not think what this means for Egypt. The Arab Spring may be dead (the Arab awakening less so). But the security establishment in Washington will be pleased. So, I suspect, will President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Now there's a thought.
Syria's al Hiffa 'deserted' after clashes
UN observers greeted by "stench of dead bodies" as they enter former rebel stronghold now overrun by government troops
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2012 06:36
Syria accused of organised attacks
Amnesty International claims government is committing crimes against humanity and calls for international response.
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2012 09:45
Syrian troops 'using helicopter gunships'
Syrian troops have been using helicopter gunships to attack the rebel-held town of Rastan in the centre of the country.
By Oliver Carmichael
3:17PM BST 11 Jun 2012
Syrian cities endure intense shelling
Activists report severe bombardments in Homs and Deraa as Russia says situation in country is becoming "more alarming".
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2012 09:39
In Syria, a massacre feels eerily familiar
June 07, 2012|By Moni Basu, CNN
Among the dead were 40 women and children. Again, as in Houla, the images are chilling.
Babies, lifeless. Wrapped in blankets, white shrouds. Women with faces in hues of ghostly whites, deep purples and reds -- the colors of death.
The world gasped two weeks ago at the slaughter of at least 108 people in the Syrian town of Houla. Now, activists say it has happened again, this time in the village of Qubeir, not far from the city of Hama.
The reactions are eerily familiar: horror. Shock. Then, reaction and blame on Bashar al-Assad and, from his government, blame on armed terrorists.
A camera captures the dead, some burned beyond recognition.
"Those are the children of Qubeir farm. Those are the children of the massacre, the same as Houla," says a man's voice in the video posted online.
"Take a look, Arabs. Take a look, Muslims. Were they terrorists? Take a look, Kofi Annan."
Syrian rebels face off with regime troops in 'sniper alley'
At least 78 people, including 35 from one family, were killed by Syrian regime forces in Qubeir, said the opposition network Local Coordination Committees of Syria. Some residents suspected the Shabiha, armed gangs that work as freelancers for the government.
The village had only about 200 people. In one lethal sweep, almost half were gone.
Opposition activists said Syrian government forces shelled Qubeir for an hour before militias on foot turned AK-47 rifles on people, some at close range, or slashed them with knives.
The government said those accusations were false.
Throughout the Syrian crisis, al-Assad has said terrorists are responsible for the bloodshed. On Thursday, the regime put Qubeir's suffering on terrorists and said the massacre was intended "to be used to pressure Syria," state media reported.
Your Take: Should the U.S. intervene in Syria?
The video of the dead was posted on YouTube late Wednesday. CNN could not independently verify its authenticity.
Neither could United Nations observers who tried Thursday to reach Qubeir but were blocked by the Army as well as civilians. The observers wanted to "establish the facts on the ground" so that the world could be certain as the United Nations General Assembly took up talk of Syria.
Many nations blamed al-Assad for Houla. Would they think the same way about Qubeir?
"Shocking and sickening" is how U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the massacre.
UN team sees traces of Syria massacre
Observers visiting al-Qubayr give grim testimony of Wednesday's assault that is reported to have killed at least 70.
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2012 12:20
Assad regime has lost humanity – UN
Secretary general says Syrian people 'are bleeding' and that crimes against humanity may have been committed
Second Syrian massacre: Qubair's killing fields
First came Houla. Now, in a nearby village, another atrocity of shocking brutality has been committed against innocent Syrian people – to the fury and frustration of an impotent international community
PETER POPHAM , LOVEDAY MORRIS FRIDAY 08 JUNE 2012
For the second time in less than a fortnight, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were accused of carrying out a gruesome massacre of innocent men, women and children yesterday as UN monitors, in Syria to watch over a non-existent ceasefire, were denied access to a village where up to 78 people are believed to have been brutally murdered.
As Kofi Annan addressed a half-empty United Nations General Assembly in New York and warned of all-out civil war, both anti- and pro-government factions in Syria blamed each other for the killings at Qubair, a village close to Houla, where more than 100 people were butchered last month.
As diplomats expressed outrage at the attacks, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said its monitors had come under small arms fire as they tried to reach the village yesterday afternoon. The Independent has chosen not to publish photographs of the blood-soaked bodies of dead children, which have emerged from the two villages. Amateur video posted on the internet purported to show the bodies of babies, children and two women wrapped in blankets and lined with frozen bottles of water to slow their corpses from rotting in a large room with a brightly patterned red carpet.
Another row of bodies lay elsewhere: a grandmother, a mother, five siblings and two cousins, according to the video narrator, all wrapped in white sheets, more frozen water bottles tucked between them, the Associated Press news agency reported. One toddler's arm covered her face. Their names were scrawled on pieces of paper and tucked into their shrouds.
In another video, the camera pans over to four blackened, charred objects too disfigured to be identified as human. The narrator said they were a mother and two children.
The Syrian authorities issued a curt denial of the massacre, accompanied by an alternative explanation for the reports of violence. "An armed terrorist group committed an appalling crime," it claimed, saying nine women and children had been killed. But survivors were in no doubt that pro-Assad militias were responsible.
"At two o'clock Syrian time, the regime army started to shell the area using tanks," said Mousab Al Hamadee, who said he was a local activist. "It is typical to start with shelling, then security forces storm the town or the village. In this case there were no security forces, only shabiha [regime militia] in very large numbers. Qubair is similar to Houla in that it is close to Alawite villages.
"They shot people at close distance, burnt people alive in their houses and used knives to slaughter people like sheep. Many people were from the same family, it's very common in these villages for most people to be related. It is a very poor rural area and Qubair itself only has a population of around 150 people. Very few are still alive."
Others claiming to be from the village backed this version of events, describing indiscriminate killing. "They murdered children and women and the bodies were burnt by those thugs... Nobody could bear the horrific scenes of these burnt bodies of children and women..." said an activist giving his name as Laith Al Hamawi. One three- month-old infant was burnt alive, he claimed, adding: "They were all burnt."
It was impossible to verify the accuracy of these claims, although several people purporting to be from the area yesterday gave similar accounts of the atrocity. The UN confirmed that its monitors were denied access to the villages, which prevented the reporting of any independent account of the massacre.
With the stakes in the conflict rising every day, with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, once again insisting yesterday that President Assad should leave the country, and Russia hinting that it was not now opposed to a change of leadership in the country that is its most important ally in the Middle East, every image of horror from the ground has an unprecedented weight.
However, those claiming to be from the village said that the monitors had ignored initial pleas for assistance. Mr Al Hamawi said: "I called UN monitors to come to stop the massacre but they didn't come – they didn't reply at all. I called them more than 10 times but nobody answered me."
He said there had never been any anti-government protests in Qubair, but the nearby village of Maarzaf was strongly against the regime. He said Qubair and the surrounding villages were under a strict curfew and had been ordered to turn off all lights at night by the officer running a local checkpoint.
According to another opposition source, the Local Co-ordination Committee, shabiha – the militia men also blamed for the massacre in Houla – first shelled the agricultural village then went in and killed the residents.
The Syrian National Council in Exile reported that 78 people were killed, 35 from the same family and more than half of them women and children – and this in a village whose total population was said to be only 140.
Annan: Syria peace plan not being implemented
UN envoy, confirming massacres, says "first responsibility" to stop violence lies with government in Damascus.
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2012 11:47
Syrian activists blame pro-Assad militia for killing at least 86 in new massacre
Reports from Hama come amid opposition anger at appointment of Baath Party chief as premier
SANCHEZ MANNING , ALASTAIR BEACH , DAVID USBORNE THURSDAY 07 JUNE 2012
Fears that Syria is spiralling into a bloody civil war were renewed last night amid claims that at least 86 people, including women and children, had been killed by pro-government forces in Hama province.
A spokesman for the Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition, said there had been a "massacre" in the villages of Qubair and Maarzaf.
These latest deaths come less than two weeks after 108 people, nearly half of them children, were executed in the Houla area by armed groups that witnesses said were Assad loyalists.
The killings also emerged against a backdrop of anger among Syrian activists and opposition politicians after a reviled former Baath Party chief was named the new Prime Minister.
Violence erupted in Hama province yesterday evening, with activist groups reporting that Qubair had come under heavy attack and shelling from security forces. According to the activists, most of the killings were carried out by a pro-regime militia called shabiha, who, armed with guns and knives, carried out a "new massacre" at a farm in the village.
Those killed were shot at close range and stabbed to death, with victims including women and children under the age of two, activists claimed. They said that some of the bodies were later burnt in houses which were set on fire and others were taken away by the shabiha.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said he had gathered the names of 23 people killed in shelling and other attacks. But the Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist group, said at least 86 were dead. Mohammed Sermini, spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council, said: "We have 100 deaths in the villages of Al-Kubeir and Maarzaf, among them 20 women and 20 children."
Independent confirmation of the killings has still to be obtained, but Mr Abdul-Rahman called on UN observers to visit the area immediately. "Do not wait until tomorrow in order to investigate this latest massacre," he said.
Meanwhile, any hope for a political resolution to the conflict, which activists say has left 13,000 dead since March last year, seemed increasingly distant with the installation of Dr Riad Hijab as Syria's Prime Minister.
Dr Hijab oversaw a deadly crackdown against pro-democracy protesters last year and critics have condemned his appointment as little more than a fig leaf for democracy.
The politician, who prior to yesterday's promotion was Minister of Agriculture, briefly served as Governor of the city of Latakia during the early days of last year's uprising.
Under his watch more than a dozen people were killed by gunfire when security forces were drafted in to quell protests, which had erupted against the government in March. At the time, Syrian officials said that civilians and government forces had been among the dead. A statement from the Syrian news agency quoted Dr Hijab as saying that violence had been caused by unidentified gunmen targeting "innocent citizens". The statement added that Dr Hijab had commended the co-operation between citizens and security forces which had arisen from a "plot targeting the Syrian model of co-existence". His rise to the top job comes after last month's widely criticised parliamentary elections.
The poll was the first held under a revised constitution that allows new political forces to challenge the hegemony of the Baath Party. President Bashar al-Assad hailed it as a key moment in Syria 's political transition.
But the elections, along with Syria's new Prime Minister, have been panned by activists who believe the Syrian regime is not serious about reform. Opposition politicians boycotted the vote in protest. Yesterday, the French government said the appointment of Dr Hijab was little more than a "masquerade". A French foreign ministry spokesman said President Assad "remains stubbornly deaf to the demands of his people".
Meanwhile, helicopters and tanks pounded rebel neighbourhoods in Latakia, according to activists. The clashes were reportedly some of the worst since last year, when Dr Hijab was Governor of the city.
The continued violence has left the ceasefire peace plan sponsored by Kofi Annan in tatters. The West and Russia appear no closer to negotiating a route out of the quagmire.
Foreshadowing Mr Annan's proposal for an expanded contact group on Syria, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, called for a meeting of Western powers with Iran and Turkey.
Syrian army stops UN from reaching 'massacre'
Head of UN mission says observers stopped at checkpoints while trying to verify reports of mass killing in Hama village.
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2012 13:34
Syrian Kurds flee to Iraq for safety
About 2,000 refugees have been sheltered in northern Iraq, many of them army defectors.
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2012 05:42