Regime’s forces kill 32 at Syria’s ‘largest protests yet’

Hundreds of thousands take to the street across the country in demonstrations demanding Assad's ouster.

By OREN KESSLER
July 16, 2011 00:59
4 minute read.
Hama, Syria

Syria protest 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Syrian security forces killed at least 32 people this weekend – including 23 in and around Damascus – activists said, in demonstrations described as the biggest yet in the four-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians reportedly protested across the country on Friday and Saturday, and tens of thousands in the capital.

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“Tens of thousands of Damascenes took to the streets in the main districts for the first time today – that is why the regime resorted to more killings,” one activist told Reuters.

Friday was among the uprising’s bloodiest days yet, as forces killed at least 31 people – about two-thirds of them in the capital. One protester was killed and five were wounded on Saturday when security personnel opened fire at pro-democracy demonstrators in the eastern border town of Albu Kamal near Iraq’s Sunni heartland, activists and residents said.

Protesters uploaded amateur video showing security forces opening fire to disperse protesters in Deraa, and police officers beating and kicking detainees in Homs.

Footage from an unidentified location also appeared to show protesters firing on police officers.

Meanwhile, Western intelligence officials said Syria has increased shipments of advanced missiles and other weapons to Hezbollah, The Times of London reported on Friday. Officials said Damascus had provided the group with eight Scud D missiles, each with a 700-kilometer range.

The missiles “are accurate to within tens of meters and bring all of Israel, Jordan and large parts of Turkey within Hezbollah’s range,” the officials said. “This is the first time that a terror organization has obtained a missile of this type,” they said, describing a “strategic weapon ...

held only by national armies.”

The Times also quoted an Israeli intelligence official who said Syria “was engaged in a serious arms build-up,” a process that had begun after the revolution started in Egypt.

The report comes after the French daily Le Figaro reported last month that a cache of Hezbollah weapons was being stored in densely populated urban areas including Homs and the suburbs of Damascus. The report cited Western intelligence concerns that Hezbollah could try to transfer the arms to Lebanon should it fear the Assad regime to be under existential threat. The weekend’s bloodshed prompted Syria’s opposition to cancel a planned National Salvation Congress in Damascus aimed at forging a united antigovernment front. The cancellation came after security forces killed 14 protesters outside a wedding hall where the conference had been due to take place, an opposition leader said.

Still, opposition figures – divided between Islamists and liberals and struggling to agree on whether to form a shadow government – held a separate conference in Istanbul.

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“I’m for anything that unifies the Syrian people and helps our people inside, and unifies our ranks in confronting this illegitimate, repressive regime that has usurped power and human rights,” opposition figure Wael Hafez told the meeting in Istanbul.

“We want to raise the intensity of the peaceful confrontation by civil disobedience and to choke the regime economically and paralyze the state with the least damage,” he said.

Most participants in the conference have lived in exile for years, if not decades, and many have paid a heavy price for their dissent in previous crackdowns by the ruling Ba’ath Party.

Unlike other meetings in recent months in Turkey, some members of the opposition inside Syria managed to attend.

“People are demanding that the opposition speed up unifying its efforts so that people deal with it as a credible alternative,” said Ali Sadreddin Bayanouni, the former head of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. “What is required of the international community and Arab countries is to withdraw support from this regime, which has lost its legitimacy, and to boycott it on both the international and diplomatic levels.”

With Syria’s diplomatic standing at a low point, the Assad regime has been keen to highlight any instances of international cooperation. On Friday, the official SANA news agency reported Damascus had signed five “cooperation documents” with North Korea.

It quoted Ri Ryong Nam, the North Korean minister of foreign trade, as saying “that he saw the people, the army, and the leadership of Syria united in face of the conspiracy and plots targeting the homeland, stressing his county’s support to the measures taken by the Syrian government to restore stability and security.”

State TV showed first lady Asma Assad enjoying a performance at Damascus’ opera house, seemingly oblivious to the violence raging outside.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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