Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Syria, Saudi Arabia
Killings pile pressure on Syria leader
October 9, 2011
DAMASCUS: A top Kurdish activist and 16 other people have been killed as thousands rallied in support of a new opposition front, activists said, with Washington calling on the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, to ''step down now''.
The latest violence on Friday came as the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, said Mr Assad will have to leave power if he fails to implement reforms acceptable to the opposition, and Damascus again blamed ''terrorists'' for the unrest.
Kurdish activist and opposition spokesman Meshaal Tamo, 53, was killed when four masked gunmen stormed his house in Qamishli in the north and opened fire, also wounding his son and another activist in the Kurdish Future Party, activists said.
Mr Assad's regime is escalating its tactics against the opposition with bold, daylight attacks on its leaders, the US State Department said.
''This is a clear escalation of regime tactics,'' State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, referring to reports of Mr Tamo's murder, as well as the beating on Friday of former MP Riad Seif.
Ms Nuland said both opposition leaders were attacked in daylight.
In a statement, White House spokesman Jay Carney condemned the attacks, saying they showed ''again that the Assad regime's promises for dialogue and reform are hollow''.
Syrian security forces 'fire on mourners'
Activists say at least 14 people killed in latest protests, including six at funeral of prominent Kurdish activist.
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2011 04:46
Syria's protesters turn to Facebook to expose 'citizen spies'
Activists use the internet to find and unmask those they suspect of reporting their neighbours to security forces
Annasofie Flamand and Hugh Macleod
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 8 October 2011 23.35 BST
A pair of eyes watched from a shop as a group of young men were chased down a Damascus side street by security forces. Just in time, a resident opened his door to hide them.
It was another Friday in Duma, a north-eastern suburb of the capital, where courageous protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime show no sign of abating. But on this occasion things were about to go badly wrong for the protesters. Within minutes, their pursuers had been directed by an informer to the house where they were hiding. As some escaped to the roof of the three-storey house and jumped to the adjacent building, Jihad Shalhoub, 43, fell, grabbing a balcony banister on his way down.
A video supplied by activists to the international campaign group Avaaz captured his fate. "Jihad tried to jump, but slipped," one of the three protesters chased onto the roof told the Observer. "The security men threw stones down at Jihad until he fell." That night he died in hospital of his injuries.
With international media banned from reporting inside Syria, the account was given to the Observer in lengthy telephone interviews with local activists. They said the death of Shalhoub was one of an increasing number of cases in which citizen spies are playing a direct role in assisting the Assad regime's security forces to crack down on pro-democracy protesters.
During nearly half a century of one-party rule, Syria's Ba'ath regime has maintained its iron grip on a nation of 22 million people through a network of civilian informers known as the awainiyya – the watchers.
From the man at the next table listening in on café conversations to the local shopkeeper, taxi driver or estate agent, Syrian society is rife with those who will inform on their fellow citizens. They do it primarily for money, said activists and analysts, but also out of fear, or sometimes because they are true believers in the ideology of the regime that Assad inherited from his father.
With the Ba'ath Party estimated at two million members, and with at least 16 branches of the security services, the numbers of awainiyya at work in Syria could be in the tens of thousands.
As the uprising against Assad's regime approaches its eighth month, security services are relying ever more heavily on their network of citizen spies to suppress protests, activists said.
"They tell security about the movement of activists and protesters during demonstrations," said Sami, one of the activist leaders in Duma. "When there are campaigns of arrests, the informers lead security to the suspects' houses wearing masks."
As the attempted revolution in Syria transforms power relations in one of the world's last police states, protesters are using social media to fight back. Facebook now hosts dozens of sites run by Syrian activists on which the names, addresses and photos of suspected informers are posted.
Residents can use the sites to report a suspected awainiyya in their neighbourhood and site administrators say they then monitor the suspect's behaviour before outing them. One entry accused a resident of the city of Latakia of "co-operating with security and informing on the men of the revolution".
"He currently resides in al-Martqla, the street connecting the Omar ibn al-Khattab. mosque and Sheikh Dahir, in front of Maher's sandwich shop. He hides at home or in his car and records the names of young people."
The site gives precise details of the suspect's address.
Mohammad Abu Khalaf, the Duma shopkeeper who informed on Jihad Shalhoub, suffered swift retribution. A witness in touch with the activist network witnessed the whole incident. Sami said that Abu Khalaf's shop was destroyed and he was beaten up. "He said: 'Please forgive me. May God forgive me, Don't beat me,' said Sami. "Informers need to be punished. It's self-defence: we've seen people taken from their houses who then die under torture in prison after having been informed on."
In a report last month based on research by human rights staff inside Syria, Avaaz said it believed more than 5,300 people had been killed since the uprising began, roughly double the UN estimate and three times the regime's tally. Some 15,000 people are reported to have been held in prisons where Human Rights Watch says torture is rampant.
But the targeting of suspected informers has raised concerns about vigilante killings. "I'm against outing informers because they could be killed," said Jawad, an activist with the 17 April Youth Movement for Democratic Change. "We need to build our state. We have to depend on law in the future. We shouldn't do what our regime did for decades."
One administrator of an awainiyya site in Homs, a major protest centre, insisted no mistakes were made in outing informers, which he said included doctors, nurses, shopkeepers and even members of the local football team. "We gather information and confirm it," he said. "Sometimes we depend on leaks from the police and security forces. We put them under surveillance, watch their moves, who they meet with and we ask about them."
But some names on awainiyya sites appear to have been posted for ulterior motives. One recent post from Hama claimed a individual had been targeted unfairly and added: "I hope you will delete this person's name because most of the people are pretty sure that his name was put on the list for personal reasons."
'Horrific aftermath' of Syria clashes
Videos appear to show havoc following fighting between army and defectors in Rastan.
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2011 18:14
Rights group: Syrian expats bullied by Mukhabarat
By D. Parvaz in
on Tue, 2011-10-04 09:58.
Amnesty International has just released a report on how Syrian security forces are targeting expat Syrians who have spoken out against the Syrian government, in hopes of silencing them.
The report, titled "Mukhabaraat: Violence and harassment against Syrians abroad and their relatives back home" details just how far reaching the tentacles of the regime are.
Even the parents of expat activists aren't spared. The report details how the parents of one activist [his father is 73 years old, his mother 66] were beaten, left bloody and bruised in Homs because he attended a pro-reform demonstration in front of the White House.
The rights group details the Mukhabarat's activities in North America, Europe and Latin America, documenting over 30 cases of expats being targeted by Syrian security forces, who employ surveillance and open threats in an effort to maintain control over anti-government activists living overseas:
Many have been filmed and orally intimidated while taking part in protests outside Syrian embassies, while some have been threatened, including with death threats, or physically attacked by individuals believed to be connected with the Syrian regime.
Syrian regime detains 3,000 in 3 days: activists
Syria Forces Kill 10 Protesters as Dissidents Form Council to Unseat Assad
By Massoud A. Derhally - Oct 3, 2011 8:30 AM GMT
'Dozens killed' in Syria protests
Activists say at least 30 people were killed after security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters.
Last Modified: 01 Oct 2011 05:36
Seven Syrian troops die as armed resistance emerges
Published: Sep 30, 2011 06:43 Updated: Sep 30, 2011 06:56
AMMAN: Syria said on Friday that seven of its soldiers and police were killed in an operation against terrorists in the central town of Rastan, where armed resistance has emerged after months of mostly peaceful protests against President Bashar Al-Assad.
Ghosts in the mosques
Opposition to the Syrian regime runs deep, as women, children, and the elderly take part in the resistance.
Nir Rosen Last Modified: 30 Sep 2011 07:26
Western states give way on UN Syria sanctions
New draft resolution drops demand for immediate sanctions against Damascus in bid to gain Security Council support.
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2011 05:47
Syria forces storm refuge for army defectors
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN | Tue Sep 27, 2011 3:48pm EDT
(Reuters) - Syrian forces backed by tanks and helicopters stormed into the central town of Rastan on Tuesday to crush army deserters who are fighting back after months of mostly peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad, residents said.
Undeterred by the crackdown, more deserters declared the formation of another rebel military unit, of uncertain size, in the same area. And in a sign of increasingly heavily armed opposition to Assad, people in the nearby city of Homs said rebel soldiers hit a government tank with a rocket.
Online activists hack official Syrian sites
Several government websites defaced by Anonymous, as crackdown on protests in Homs and elsewhere continues.
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2011 09:01
Turkey imposes arms embargo on Syria
"A Syrian-flagged ship already stopped" as part of sanctions announced by former ally in response to Assad's crackdown.
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2011 07:11
More deaths in Syria as sanctions tighten
At least 12 people killed by security forces in post-prayer protests as EU steps up sanctions against government.
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2011 18:07
Father mourns son 'tortured in Syria'
Rights group say more than 100 children have died during crackdown, Al Jazeera spoke to one man about his son's death.
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2011 18:07
Human rights groups say more than 100 children have been killed in the six months since the crackdown on Syria's pro-democracy movement began.
Activists say one of the children killed by security forces was Tamer Al Shrei, 15, who was arrested on April 29.
His father, who found his body in a morgue more than a month later, will have his testimony heard at the UN-backed Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Monday.
Mohammed Al Shrei spoke exclusively to Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford about his son's death.
WARNING: The report contains strong images which some viewers may find disturbing.
Saudi police open fire on civilians as protests gain momentum
Insecure Saudis crack down on freedom protest
By Patrick Cockburn
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Pro-democracy protests which swept the Arab world earlier in the year have erupted in eastern Saudi Arabia over the past three days, with police opening fire with live rounds and many people injured, opposition activists say.
Saudi Arabia last night confirmed there had been fighting in the region and that 11 security personnel and three civilians had been injured in al-Qatif, a large Shia city on the coast of Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province. The opposition say that 24 men and three women were wounded on Monday night and taken to al-Qatif hospital.
The Independent has been given exclusive details of how the protests developed by local activists. They say unrest began on Sunday in al-Awamiyah, a Shia town of about 25,000 people, when Saudi security forces arrested a 60-year-old man to force his son – an activist – to give himself up.
Ahmad Al-Rayah, a spokesman for the Society for Development and Change, which is based in the area, said that most of the civilians hit were wounded in heavy firing by the security forces after 8pm on Monday. "A crowd was throwing stones at a police station and when a local human rights activist named Fadel al-Mansaf went into the station to talk to them and was arrested," he said.
Mr Rayah added that "there have been protests for democracy and civil rights since February, but in the past the police fired into the air. This is the first time they have fired live rounds directly into a crowd." He could not confirm if anybody had been killed.
The Shia of Saudi Arabia, mostly concentrated in the Eastern Province, have long complained of discrimination against them by the fundamentalist Sunni Saudi monarchy. The Wahhabi variant of Islam, the dominant faith in Saudi Arabia, holds Shia to be heretics who are not real Muslims.
The US, as the main ally of Saudi Arabia, is likely to be alarmed by the spread of pro-democracy protests to the Kingdom and particularly to that part of it which contains the largest oil reserves in the world. The Saudi Shia have been angered at the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain since March, with many protesters jailed, tortured or killed, according Western human rights organisations.
Hamza al-Hassan, an opponent of the Saudi government from Eastern Province living in Britain, predicted that protests would spread to more cities. "I am frightened when I see video film of events because most people in this region have guns brought in over the years from Iraq and Yemen and will use them [against government security men]," he said. He gave a slightly different account of the start of the riots in al-Awamiyah, saying that two elderly men had been arrested by the security forces, one of whom had a heart attack.
"Since September there has been a huge presence of Saudi security forces in al-Qatif and all other Shia centres," he said. Al-Qatif was the scene of similar protests in March, which were swiftly quashed by security forces.
The Saudi statement alleges that the recent protests were stirred up by an unnamed foreign power, by which it invariably means Iran. The interior ministry was quoted on Saudi television as saying that "a foreign country is trying to undermine national security by inciting strife in al-Qatif". Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies of the western Gulf have traditionally blamed Iran for any unrest by local Shia, but have never produced any evidence other than to point at sympathetic treatment of the demonstrations on Iranian television.
The 20 doctors in Bahrain sentenced to up to 15 years in prison last week say their interrogators tortured them repeatedly to force them to make false confessions that Iran was behind the protests. The counter-revolution in Bahrain was heralded by the arrival of a 1,500-strong Saudi-led military force, which is still there.
Mr Rayah, who flew from Saudi Arabia to Beirut to be free to talk about the protests, said: "People want a change and a new way of living." He said that, in particular, they were demanding a constitution and a free assembly for the Eastern Province. He also wanted the Society for Development and Change legally registered.
Mr Hassan blamed the protests on the fact "that there has been no political breakthrough".
"I am from the city of al-Safwa, which is very close to al-Awamiyah, and there is very high unemployment in both," he said. Some 70 per cent of the Saudi population is believed to be under 30 and many do not have jobs. "We were hoping for municipal reforms and regional elections for years but we got nothing."
He said reforms reported in the Western media were meaningless and that only a few Saudis had bothered to vote in the most recent local elections because local councils had no power.
Saudi woman 'spared lashing' in driving case
King Abdullah reportedly overturns a court order to whip a woman 10 times for defying a ban on female drivers.
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2011 21:11
A Saudi government official has said that King Abdullah has overturned a court verdict that sentenced a Saudi woman to be lashed 10 times for defying the kingdom's ban on women driving.
The official spoke to the Associated Press news agency on Wednesday, but declined to elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A day earlier, a Saudi court found Shaima Jastaina guilty of violating the driving ban, and sentenced her to 10 lashes.
The verdict took Saudi women by surprise, coming just a day after Abdullah announced that women would have the right to vote and run in the country's 2015 local elections.
Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.
It was the first time a legal punishment had been handed down for breaking the longtime ban in the conservative Muslim kingdom
Saudi women given voting rights
King Abdullah says women will be allowed to run as candidates in municipal polls and will even have a right to vote.
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2011 13:03
Saudi women will have the right to join the advisory Shura Council (consultative assembly) as full members and participate in future municipal elections, King Abdullah has said.
The announcement came days before municipal elections where women will be excluded.
"Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others ... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term," Abdullah said on Sunday in a speech delivered to the Shura Council.
"Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote," Abdullah said.
The decision means women will take part in the elections to be held in four years. Nominations for municipal polls on Thursday are already in.
Women in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom are not allowed to drive.
Activists in the country have long called for greater rights for women, who are barred from travelling, working or having medical operations without the permission of a male relative.
More than 5,000 men will compete in Thursday's municipal elections, only the second in Saudi Arabia's history, to fill half the seats in the kingdom's 285 municipal councils. The other half are appointed by the government.
The first elections were held in 2005, but the government extended the existing councils' term for two more years.
More than 60 Saudi intellectuals and activists have called for a boycott of the ballot for excluding women.
Saudi Arabia to give women right to vote - videoKing Abdullah, 87, announces a 'cautious reform' which will allow women the right to vote and stand for election. The move has been welcomed as a cultural shift in conservative Islamic society, but will not take effect until 2015. Many commentators in Saudi Arabia said broader change was needed
guardian.co.uk, Monday 26 September 2011