Syria: Latest 'Day of Rage' could be largest yet
By OREN KESSLER
Death toll exceeds 500 as violent uprising enters seventh week; IAEA chief Amano confirms facility leveled in 2007 was nuclear site.
Gunfire rang out on Thursday in Deraa, residents of the besieged southern town
said, after Syrian President Bashar Assad sent tanks into the coastal city of
Latakia, in an increasingly violent suppression of an uprising now heading into
its seventh week.
With the estimated death toll exceeding 500, protesters
have called for another “Day of Rage” after weekly prayers on Friday – one that
could prove to be the largest yet.
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Two hundred Ba’ath Party members from
southern Syria resigned late on Wednesday after the government sent in tanks to
crush resistance in Deraa.
A witness told The Associated Press that six
tanks rolled into Latakia on Wednesday night and security forces fired on
pro-democracy demonstrators, wounding four.
High-ranking Syrian officials
said that should war break out between Israel and Syria’s Hezbollah allies,
Assad would not hesitate to use his “strongest cards” in southern Lebanon
against the Jewish state, Israel Radio reported.
In the event of renewed
hostilities, Syria and Hezbollah would “compete over who could fire missiles
first” at Tel Aviv, the station reported, quoting the Kuwaiti daily Al-
Diplomats and rights activists, however, have told Western news
agencies that signs were also emerging of differences within the army, where the majority of
troops are Sunnis, but most officers belong to Assad’s minority Alawite
The dearth of foreign journalists in the country makes
independently verifying reports almost impossible. Al-Jazeera television said on
Thursday it had suspended some operations in Syria, a move which a media
watchdog said was the result of restrictions and attacks on Al-Jazeera
Also on Thursday, the head of the International Atomic Energy
Agency, Yukiya Amano, said for the first time that Syria had tried in the past
to secretly build a nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by Israeli warplanes
five years ago.
Syria denies that the bombed building contained any
For over two years, Syria has refused IAEA follow-up
access to the remains of a complex that was being built in the Syrian desert
when Israel bombed it to rubble in 2007.
“The facility that was...
destroyed by Israel was a nuclear reactor under construction,” he said in
response to a question from AP, repeating afterward: “It was a reactor under
As the crackdown persists, pressure – both domestic and
external – continues to mount.
“Considering the breakdown of values and
emblems that we were instilled with by the party, and which were destroyed at
the hand of the security forces... we announce our withdrawal from the party
without regret,” the Ba’ath Party members said in their resignation letter,
quoted by the Guardian newspaper in London.
Turkey’s intelligence chief
met Assad on Thursday as part of a senior delegation sent to Damascus to suggest
reforms that could help end the uprising.
“The delegation will share with
Syrian officials Turkey’s experiences in the fields of political and economic
reforms,” Turkish authorities said ahead of the meeting.
officials said events in Syria were “very troubling” to Ankara, and that
sanctions would not help the situation.
One official told AFP that if
Assad’s regime falls, Ankara would be forced to reconsider its close relations
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was expected later
on Thursday to convene a meeting with ambassadors from the United States and
several European countries to show them what Syrian officials are saying is
evidence of an organized conspiracy to destabilize the government, Israel Radio
Britain has withdrawn its royal wedding invitation to Syria,
with the support of Buckingham Palace, a Foreign Office spokesman said on
Britain had summoned Syrian Ambassador Sami Khiyami to the
Foreign Office a day earlier to condemn the “unacceptable use of force.” Under
intense media pressure, it rescinded the invitation to Friday’s wedding of
Prince William and Kate Middleton, saying the Foreign Office and Buckingham
Palace shared the view that it was “not considered appropriate” for the
ambassador to attend.
“I find it a bit embarrassing, but I do not
consider it as a matter that would jeopardize any ongoing relations and
discussions with the British government,” Khiyami told BBC
Australia also called for international sanctions, and said the
United Nations should send a special envoy to investigate events
“We believe the time has come for the international community now
to consider the use of sanctions against the Syrian regime,” Foreign Minister
Kevin Rudd said after a meeting at the Commonwealth headquarters in
In Deraa, a Syrian mother of six who opened the door to a secret
policeman, just had time to scream: “Israelis are more merciful than you!”
before he shot her dead, relatives told Reuters on Thursday.
of Homs took a different view.
“They have emptied pharmacy shelves so
that people do not find anything to treat their wounded. They are lions against
us, but lambs towards the Israelis,” he said, as gunfire crackled
Reuters contributed to this report.