Syrian Protests Continue Despite Crackdown,
More Deaths, and Promises of Elections
August 7, 2011
Syrian tanks storm eastern city, defying U.N. appeal
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Suleiman al-Khalidi
AMMAN | Sun Aug 7, 2011, 6:30am EDT
AMMAN (Reuters) -
Syrian troops killed 20 people in a tank assault on the eastern city
of Dair El-Zoar on Sunday, an activist group said, despite a direct U.N.
appeal to President Bashar al-Assad to stop using military force against
The assault on Dair El-Zoar, capital of a restive oil-producing
province, began exactly a week after Assad sent the army to seize
control of the city of Hama, a focal point of nearly five months of
protest against his autocratic rule.
The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union said most casualties in
Sunday's attack on Dair El-Zoar were in al-Joura district in the west of
A resident told Reuters: "Early this morning columns of army tanks
and bulldozers, under cover of heavy rounds of gunfire, stormed into the
western and northern entrances of the city and dismantled barricades set
up by residents.
"A dozen tanks are taking position in the main square in Jubaila
market in the northern sector of Deir al-Zor," the resident, who gave
his name as Abu Bakr, said by telephone.
Syria has barred
most independent media since the start of the uprising against Assad,
making it hard to verify accounts from residents, activists and
The military assault on Dair El-Zoar, about 400 km (250 miles)
north-east of Damascus, was launched a day after U.N. Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon told Assad he was alarmed by the escalating violence and
demanded he rein in the army.
"In a phone conversation with President Assad...the Secretary General
expressed his strong concern and that of the international community at
the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days," the
U.N. press office said.
Ban "urged the president to stop the use of military force against
civilians immediately," it added.
Residents of Dair El-Zoar, situated on the Euphrates river in a
province bordering Iraq's Sunni heartland, had been bracing for an
assault on their city.
A video posted on the Internet last week showed a tribal meeting
discussing preparations for armed resistance to any military move
Several hours after the tanks moved in, explosions could be heard
during telephone calls to residents in al-Joura.
Abu Bakr, from the Jubaila area which has seen some of the largest
anti-Assad demonstrations in recent weeks, said mosque loudspeakers were
blaring "Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)."
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who built close ties with
Assad before the uprising, said on Saturday his foreign minister would
visit Damascus on Tuesday to deliver a message to Syria.
Turkey has grown
increasingly critical of Assad and a senior minister last week called
the attack on Hama an atrocity.
Tanks and armored vehicles deployed throughout Hama on Saturday, a
resident said, after a week-long assault which one activist group said
had killed 300 civilians.
Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, crushed an armed Islamist uprising in
Hama nearly 30 years ago, killing many thousands of people and razing
parts of the city's old quarter.
Syrian authorities blame the violence on gunmen and religious
extremists they say have killed 500 police and soldiers since March.
They say the army swept into Hama to confront "armed terrorist groups"
attacking civilians and sabotaging property, and that 20 soldiers have
Hama stands as a symbol of defiance to the Assad family due to the
1982 uprising and because, until Bashar al-Assad sent in the tanks to
crush the latest protests, it was the scene of some of the biggest
demonstrations against his rule, with more than 100,000 gathering on
Fridays to chant for his overthrow.
In their first public comments about the bloodshed, Gulf Arab States
expressed the "greatest concern and regret" on Saturday over the
"increasing violence and excessive use of force" in Syria, but did not
directly criticize Assad.
Seeking to contain their own domestic dissent, and wary of any
turmoil on their northern flank, the wealthy oil exporting Gulf states
had previously kept silent on Syria.
A statement by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council called for "an
immediate end to violent actions and any armed activity, an end to the
spilling of blood, recourse to wisdom, and carrying out serious,
Rights groups say Syrian security forces have killed at least 1,600
civilians since the start of the protests, inspired by Arab uprisings
which overthrew leaders in Egypt and
Dominic Evans; Editing by
Syrian soldiers kill 4 in tank assaults
Ma'an, August 7, 2011, 13:14
DAMASCUS (AFP) --
Syrian security forces backed by tanks killed at least four civilians
as they moved to crush democracy protests in a central town and the
flashpoint eastern city of Dair El-Zoar on Sunday, an activist said.
The crackdown came only hours after the government vowed to hold
"free" elections by the year's end, and following a personal appeal by
UN chief Ban Ki-moon to President Bashar Al-Assad to halt the bloodshed.
"About 25 tanks and troop carriers entered Hula and carried out
military operations that killed four," Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the
Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, told AFP in Nicosia
The death toll from the assault on Hula, a town in
the central province of Homs, was likely to rise as many people were
seriously wounded in the assault, said Abdul Rahman.
people died in the northwestern city of Idlib from gunshot wounds they
suffered when security forces fired on protesters during massive
protests late on Saturday, he said.
Hundreds of tanks and armored
cars have been deployed in Dair El-Zoar, he said, adding that many
residents had fled in fear of the assault on the city, the largest in
eastern Syria with more than half a million people.
been heard in several areas" of Dair El-Zoar, said Abdul Rahman, adding
later that a sweeping campaign of arrests followed with "dozens" of
people being taken into custody.
The Local Coordination
Committees of Syria, which has been organizing democracy protests on the
ground, said the army had entered nine areas of Dair El-Zoar, which was
rocked by "very strong explosions."
Syria's government has sought
to crush the democracy movement with brutal force, leaving at least
2,038 people dead, including 389 members of the security forces,
according to the Britain-based Observatory.
On Saturday, security
forces in Damascus arrested prominent opposition figure and former
political prisoner Walid Al-Bunni and his two sons, said Abdel Rahman.
The assaults on Hula and Dair El-Zoar came after Ban finally managed
to reach Assad who had been refusing to take his phone calls, urging the
Syrian president to immediately end the military campaign.
phone conversation with President Assad of Syria today, the secretary
general expressed his strong concern and that of the international
community at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past
days," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said late Saturday.
"reflected to the Syrian president the clear message sent by the
Security Council and urged the president to stop the use of military
force against civilians immediately," Nesirky said.
followed a pledge by the US, French and German leaders to consider new
steps to punish Syria after security forces killed more than 30 people
on the first Friday of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.
Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allim said on Saturday that elections
to a new parliament would be held by the end of 2011, as he met with
foreign ambassadors posted to Damascus.
"Syria will hold free and
transparent elections that will give birth to a parliament representing
the aspirations of the Syrian people," Mu'allim said.
minister stressed "the commitment of the Syrian leadership to the
continued reform process and implementation of measures announced by
The embattled president issued a decree on
Thursday allowing opposition political parties.
In April, he
ordered an end to five decades of draconian emergency rule and abolished
the feared state security courts, while in June he said talks could lead
to a new constitution and end his Baath party's monopoly on power.
But the concessions have been largely dismissed by the opposition as
too late and a ploy to appease protesters.
The Syrian protesters
have been calling for greater freedoms since mid-March, inspired by Arab
uprisings that ousted the autocratic leaders of Tunisia and Egypt at the
start of the year.
Assad's regime has become increasingly
isolated, with allies like Turkey and Russia calling for an end to the
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke
forcefully about the situation this week, calling on Assad to "carry out
urgent reforms," warning otherwise "a sad fate awaits him and in the end
we will have to take some decisions."
And Turkey's Foreign
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is to visit Syria on Tuesday with the message
that Ankara "has run out of patience" with the ongoing violence, Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Syria vows 'free elections' as pressure grows
Ma'an, 06/08/2011 22:37
Syria vowed on Saturday to hold "free and transparent"
elections by the end of 2011 as Arab states in the Gulf joined a chorus
of Western pressure over its deadly suppression of anti-regime protests.
An activist, meanwhile, said hundreds of tanks and armored cars had
been deployed in the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor and around Homs in
"Syria will hold free and transparent elections
that will give birth to a parliament representing the aspirations of the
Syrian people," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in a meeting with
ambassadors posted to Damascus.
"The general elections will be
held before the end of the year," Muallem said, quoted by the official
SANA news agency.
The foreign minister stressed "the commitment
of the Syrian leadership to the continued reform process and
implementation of measures announced by President (Bashar Al-) Assad."
The embattled president issued a decree on Thursday allowing
opposition political parties, but the move was largely dismissed by the
opposition as a ploy to appease protesters.
The oil-rich Arab
monarchies of the Gulf on Saturday turned up the heat on Damascus, with
the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council calling in a statement for an
"immediate end to violence... and bloodshed."
They urged a
"resort to wisdom and introducing serious and necessary reforms."
Their call followed a pledge by the US, French and German leaders to
consider new steps to punish Syria after a deadly crackdown on the first
Friday of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.
Barack Obama spoke separately to France's Nicolas Sarkozy and German
Chancellor Angela Merkel as Western nations cranked up pressure on
They "condemned the Assad regime's continued use of
indiscriminate violence," the White House said. They "also agreed to
consider additional steps to pressure the Assad regime and support the
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, in an
interview to be published on Sunday, said Assad no longer has a future
in Syrian politics.
"I don't believe that Assad has a political
future ahead of him which is supported by the Syrian people,"
Westerwelle told the newspaper Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
Syrian government has sought to crush the democracy movement with brutal
force, killing around 1,650 civilians and arresting thousands of
dissenters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory,
told AFP by telephone that around 250 tanks and armored cars were
deployed in four districts of Deir Ezzor on Saturday.
were also posted around the airport in Deir Ezzor, many of whose
residents started to flee the city from Wednesday, fearing imminent
In Homs, "many armored cars and other army
vehicles have been posted in the Bab al-Sibaa district," Abdel Rahman
said, adding that activists in the city reported gunfire from early
In the latest bloodshed, Abdel Karim Rihawi, who heads
the Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights, said 22 people were
killed on Friday, including seven after the special evening prayers for
Seven of the fatalities were in Irbin, three in Damir
and one in Maadamiya, all near Damascus, he said by telephone. Three
others were killed in Homs and one other in Nawa, southern Syria.
SANA, meanwhile, said two members of the security forces were killed
and eight wounded on Friday in an ambush on a road in the northwestern
Idlib region, near the Turkish border.
On Friday, communications
were completely cut off as the army stepped up an operation to crush
dissent in Hama, the central city where security forces killed at least
30 civilians and wounded dozens more earlier in the week.
than 1,000 families have fled the city, according to Abdel Rahman.
"Thousands of demonstrators marched in Deir Ezzor, Daraa and
Qamishli in support of the city of Hama despite the extreme heat" on
Friday, said Rihawi, adding they numbered 30,000 in Deir Ezzor alone.
The call for Friday's protests came from activists on Facebook
group The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind the
demonstrations that have been calling for greater freedoms since
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