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Syrian Army Shells Residential Areas in Homs, Snipers Ordered to Aim for the Head

 May 11, 2011


Tanks shell restive Syrian city, Assad confident

By Khaled Yacoub

AMMAN | Wed May 11, 2011, 10:17am EDT

AMMAN (Reuters) -

Army tanks shelled a residential district in Homs on Wednesday, a rights campaigner said in Syria's third city that has become the most populous center of revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

"Homs is shaking with the sound of explosions from tank shelling and heavy machineguns in the Bab Amro neighborhood," Najati Tayara said by telephone from the city.

Tayara said a Syrian Christian was killed by sniper fire to his head as he stood in front of his house in the nearby Inshaat district. There was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities who have banned most international media from Syria.

In the south, four civilians in the southern town of Tafas were killed as security forces widened a campaign of arrests, a human rights campaigner in the region said, adding 300 people had been detained since tanks arrived there on Saturday.

In Damascus, security forces have arrested opposition leader Mazen Adi, from the People's Democratic Party founded by Syria's top dissident, Riad al-Turk, rights activists said.

They added that thousands of pro-democracy Syrians had been arrested and beaten in the last two months, including scores on Thursday in Homs and in the coastal city of Banias.

Assad initially responded to the unrest, the most serious challenge to his 11-year grip on power, with promises of reform and assertions that the demonstrators were serving a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife.

He also lifted a 48-year state of emergency that security services had used to suppress any manifestation of dissent.

The state news agency SANA said on Thursday a government committee had been formed to draft a new election law, but gave no details.

But Assad has also dispatched troops to crush dissent, first in Deraa where people first took to the streets on March 18, then to some other cities.

He made clear he would not risk jeopardizing the tight control his family has held over Syria for the past 41 years.

Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, amended the Syrian constitution in the 1970s to make the Baath Party, in power since 1963, "leader of the state and society."

A cousin of the president said the Assad family was not going to capitulate. "We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end ... They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone," Rami Makhlouf told the New York Times.

Makhlouf, a tycoon in his early 40s who owns several monopolies, and his brother, a secret police chief, have been under specific U.S. sanctions since 2007 for corruption.

Rights campaigner Suhair al-Atassi said protest action broke out on Tuesday in Homs, despite a heavy security clampdown, after tanks stormed several neighborhoods on Sunday and three civilians were killed.

"This regime is playing a losing card by sending tanks into cities and besieging them. Syrians have seen the blood of their compatriots spilled. They will never return to being non-persons," she told Reuters.

Demonstrators have shouted the name of Makhlouf as a symbol of graft in a country that has been facing severe water shortages and unemployment ranging from government estimates of 10 percent to independent estimates of 25 percent.

Makhlouf says he is a businessman whose companies provide jobs for thousands of Syrians.


Until the uprising began, Assad -- from the minority Shi'ite Alawite sect -- had been emerging from Western isolation after defying the United States over Iraq policy and reinforcing an anti-Israel bloc with Iran.

In Banias, protesters held up pictures of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to salute him for his stand against what they perceive as Assad's iron fist policy toward opposition.

Erdogan, whose country is one of the few parliamentary democracies in the region, has maintained close trade and diplomatic ties with Assad. But Erdogan has also disputed the official Damascus account of recent political violence in Syria.

Syrian officials have blamed most of the violence on "armed terrorist groups," backed by Islamists and foreign agitators, and say about 100 soldiers and police have been killed.

Erdogan said more than 1,000 civilians had died in Syria's upheaval. He said he did not want to see a repeat of the 1982 bloodshed in Hama, where Hafez al-Assad brutally crushed an Islamist uprising, or the 1988 gassing of Kurds in the Iraqi town of Halabja during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

In Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to halt mass arrests and to heed calls for reform. Ban also said that U.N. humanitarian workers and human rights monitors must be allowed into Deraa as well as other cities.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Witnesses, activists say Syrian troops shelling residential areas in Homs

By ZEINA KARAM Associated Press

May 11, 2011, 10:06 AM EDT


The Syrian army shelled residential areas in the country's third-largest city Wednesday, sending people fleeing for cover in a sharp escalation in the government's attempts to crush a popular revolt against President Bashar Assad's autocratic rule, according to activists and witnesses.

Heavy tank- and gunfire rocked at least three residential neighborhoods in the besieged city of Homs, which has seen some of the largest anti-government demonstrations during the seven-week-long uprising.

"There were loud explosions and gunfire from automatic rifles throughout the night and until this morning," a resident told The Associated Press by telephone, asking that his name not be used for fear of government reprisals. "The area is totally besieged. We are being shelled."

More than 750 people have been killed in a crackdown on the unrest and thousands of Syrians have been detained, with about 9,000 still in custody, said Ammar Qurabi, who heads the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

Syrian authorities are determined to crush the uprising, despite rising international pressure against it. Assad has dispatched army troops backed by tanks to Homs and other communities across the country, saying soldiers and security forces are rooting out "armed terrorist groups" and thugs he says are behind the violence.

Assad has announced a series of reforms, widely viewed as symbolic overtures to appease protesters since the movement began in the southern city of Daraa in mid-March and quickly spread nationwide.

On Wednesday, he was quoted by Syria's private Al-Watan newspaper urging Syrians to cooperate with the government so that the reform process may continue. He also pledged a swift solution to the issue of detainees who were jailed during the unrest.

Wednesday's shelling targeted the Bab Sbaa, Bab Amr and Jouret el Aris neighborhoods, according to activists in Damascus who were in touch with residents in Homs. The city also is home to one of Syria's two oil refineries.

Syrian television quoted a military official as saying that soldiers and security forces were pursuing "armed terrorist groups" and arrested tens of fugitives and seized large quantities of weapons.

The official, who was not identified, said two soldiers were killed and five wounded during confrontations Wednesday.

Germany, meanwhile, said several European countries were summoning Syrian ambassadors and threatening new sanctions targeting the country's leadership if it doesn't halt the repression of protesters.

The European Union already has decided to impose sanctions on 13 Syrian officials, prohibiting them from traveling anywhere in the 27-nation bloc. But the first round of sanctions doesn't target Assad himself.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said European officials will make clear that "a second package that also includes the Syrian leadership" will follow if Syria does not immediately change course.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also urged Syria Wednesday to allow an international aid assessment team to enter Daraa. He told reporters in Geneva he is disappointed the assessment team "has not yet been given the access it needs."

Ban added he had been assured by Assad that the team would be allowed into the city.

Despite the government crackdown, small demonstrations and candlelight vigils were reported in several areas in the past few days.

Activists said three protesters were killed late Tuesday when government forces fired on demonstrations in Jassem, one of a cluster of villages near Daraa.

In the coastal city of Banias, where the army has also sent soldiers and tanks and arrested hundreds as part of military operation, rights activists said electricity, water and communications have been restored.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said authorities also released some 300 people Tuesday after making them sign a pledge not to state protests. But he said an army tank was still deployed in the city's main square were protests were held in past weeks.

Abdul-Rahman said at least seven civilians, including four women, were killed during military operations in the city.


Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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'Snipers ordered to aim for the head'

A protester shot in the head in Lattakia, on March 27. One of our Observers in Damascus has sent us this audio recording, featuring a man who presents himself as a member of a special unit of the Syrian security forces. The man, who goes by the pseudonym of “Abu Hussein”, describes the orders he and his colleagues received before they were sent to crush anti-government protests around the Syrian capital on April 29. According to our Observer, the recording below was made on May 3 in Damascus. The sound of the voice has been modified for safety reasons.

For the English translation of this audio recording in Arabic, read the comment below. Abu Hussein explains that he was sent as part of a force charged with repressing a protest in Barzeh, a suburb north of Damascus. He says he belongs to a special unit that is neither part of the army nor of the police. Although Abu Hussein refused to speak directly to FRANCE 24 out of fear for his safety, his account is consistent with the evidence found in video footage of the Syrian government’s crackdown on opposition demonstrations.

“Each army officer was to be accompanied by a volunteer sniper”

My name is Abu Hussein and I’m part of the Syrian Defence Ministry’s special security force. First of all, I would like to apologise for not disclosing my full identity, as well as for the quality of the sound. I had to take these precautions because of the risk I’m taking by delivering this account. I would like to direct this message to all Syrians, but in particular to my colleagues in the Syrian armed forces.

We know what our orders are, and we obey them without for a single second questioning their lawfulness or the consequences that arise if we enforce them. I would like to tell you about what happened on April 29, 2011, and the orders we received that day before we were sent to Barzeh, north of Damascus. We were gathered on Friday morning in front of the police academy, about one kilometre from the city centre.

Our group included 200 men from my special security force and about 100 policemen. We were then joined by another hundred or so military troops. I learned after talking to them that they were part of the fourth army division [a section believed to have close links with the Presidential Guard set up by Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s brother]. Among the soldiers, there were five snipers, 15 RPG [rocket propelled grenade] shooters and about sixty men armed with Kalashnikovs.

Once we were all there, the Colonel began detailing our plan of attack. The police would come in first. Armed with truncheons, their role would be to stop protesters from reaching Barzeh’s main square. Afterwards, the Special Security forces were due to join them, armed with sticks and clubs. The soldiers were to come in last. They were ordered to shoot into the air if protesters came within 500 metres of them.

They were then ordered to aim for the legs if the crowd came within 200 metres of them. He then specifically ordered that nobody should shoot without being directly ordered to, and should never shoot to kill. Nevertheless, after the meeting, the officers were pulled aside for a talk with the unit chief. When they returned, one of them told me that the officers of the fourth division had received different orders.

Each officer was to be accompanied by a volunteer sniper [usually a member of a militia or a mercenary]. They were also ordered to position themselves in places from which it would be easy to shoot. They were ordered to aim for the head as soon as they saw a protester. Their goal was to terrify people so they wouldn’t leave their houses. What most struck me after talking with several army officers was the authorities’ clear intention of pitting the army against protesters.

Police live with their families, but army recruits live secluded in their barracks, where they are completely brainwashed by their superiors. They are told that the protesters are trouble-making rioters who are manipulated by foreign agents. Soldiers’ families need to warn them that the state is feeding them lies – otherwise their children will have too much blood on their hands.”

A man shot in the shoulder during a protest in Deraa on April 1. (For more information on this video, click here)

"Many videos show protesters shot in the head or chest"

‘Ahmed Syria’ (not his real name) is the Observer who recorded the above message and sent it to FRANCE 24. On April 29, the scheduled protest lasted only about half an hour because it began pouring with rain, and most people went home [see the video of the start of the protest, below].

As a result, Abu Hussein’s force did not need to intervene as planned. The previous Friday, however, there was a large protest in which I took part. That day, seven people were killed, according to an official toll, and three are still missing. Security forces and Chabbiha militamen [civilians whom eyewitnesses say are fighting alongside police and soldiers].

 I saw a man being shot in the head just 15 metres away from me. Clearly, the shot came from above, and not from security forces on the ground. Half of his face was blown off. What I witnessed in Barzeh happened in several other cities. For several weeks, many videos showed protesters shot in the head or chest. Abu Hussein’s account just confirms that snipers are enrolled to crack down on protesters.”

Ahmed Syrie

Protests in Barzeh on April 29

Video posted on YouTube by BaronDamascus.

In Barzeh on April 22, a plainclothes policeman shoots at protesters

Video posted by Malconito2003. Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre. »


Journalist released from Syrian detention describes harrowing ordeal

By FRANCE 24 (text)

Days after he was released from a Syrian jail where he was detained for 23 days, journalist Khaled Sid Mohand (pictured) told FRANCE 24 he was beaten up only for the first few days. His fellow detainees however were not as fortunate, he said.

Khaled Sid Mohand is one of the few foreign journalists who can bear testimony to the repression of the Syrian regime against protesters who for weeks have been calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. On Saturday, the freelance journalist who works for a French public radio station and a leading French daily, returned to France after a 23-day detention in a Syrian jail.

“In a way I would say I can’t complain. I was beaten up a little bit during the first couple of days, but then they never touched me again,” said Mohand, an Algerian national who works for France Culture radio and the daily newspaper, Le Monde.

“The psychological torture was hearing the screams of all the other detainees,” Mohand told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday. “Any time they would take a detainee from his cell you would hear him scream like hell. Sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes as long as an hour.”

Mohand was arrested in the Syrian capital of Damascus on April 9 and incarcerated in a tiny prison cell. Syrian authorities have provided no reasons for his arrest.

Coverage of the demonstrations has been tightly controlled in Syria since the outbreak of anti-regime protests in mid-March, with few foreign reporters allowed into the country. The media blackout has forced international news organisations to rely on amateur video footage from troubled Syrian towns and cities posted on Web sites such as YouTube.

Since the protests broke out earlier this year, a number of foreign reporters have been detained – some have been released and expelled from the country.

On Tuesday, the Arabic Al Jazeera TV station said the whereabouts of its journalist Dorothy Parvez - who had been detained by Syrian authorities - were still unknown, although a Syrian pro-regime daily reported that she had left the country.

"The Syrian authorities have not given us any information on what happened to Dorothy after she arrived in Damascus," said a statement released by the news station. "This burden therefore rests on them and we continue to demand that they release her."

Mohand’s account remains one of the few accounts by a western journalist of the conditions of detainees in Syria.

“I was scared to have to give the names of the people I had interviewed before. This was a major concern,” he told FRANCE 24. The journalist also expressed concern about his sources in Syria who would now be scared of getting in touch with him.

Mohand was released after diplomatic efforts by the French and Algerian embassies in Damascus.

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