At least 10,000 protesters have been detained across Syria over the past few
days in a mass arrest campaign the government hopes will help stem an uprising
poised to enter its third month.
Syrian tanks shelled residential
districts in two towns on Wednesday and at least 19 people were killed across
the country, rights campaigners said.
It was one of the bloodiest days
apart from the main Friday protest days, as President Bashar Assad’s regime
intensifies its campaign to quell unrest in Homs, a city emerging as the
country’s most populous center of defiance. Most of the violence occurred in the
southern Deraa province, where the unrest first erupted on March
Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in
Syria, said 13 people were killed in the town of Harra, about 60 kilometers
northwest of Deraa city.
Most were killed when tanks shelled four houses.
Two people – a child and a nurse – died in gunfire, he said.
shelled a residential district in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, and at least
five people were killed, a rights campaigner in the city said. A sixth person
was killed by a sniper shot to the head as he stood in front of his
“The security forces are terrorizing urban centers,” said Najati
Tayara, the activist in Homs.
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There was no immediate comment from Syrian
authorities, who have banned most international media from the country, making
it difficult to verify accounts of events.
As Western criticism of the
crackdown grows, a former mediator between Syria and Israel said Jerusalem would
benefit from Assad staying in power, and the embattled president must be given a
chance to show he has learned from his mistakes.
“It’s in the interest of
Israel and the entire world that Bashar stay in power, because we don’t know
what might replace him. There were many, many mistakes made, but these mistakes
can be corrected,” said Ibrahim Soliman, a Syrian-American businessman who
mediated secret, unofficial negotiations between the countries from 2004 to
By phone from the US, Soliman said the crackdown was being
conducted by corrupt officials who must be purged from the Syrian
Assad “must be given a chance to get rid of these corrupt
people, and I think he will. But he must be given a chance,” Soliman
The former mediator said he didn’t expect Syria to descend into a
Libya-style stalemate in which neither side had the upper hand.
continue what they’re doing, it’ll mean the destruction of their way of
I think within a few weeks the situation will cool down,” said
Soliman, who has met Assad personally and has ties to the Syrian regime. “I
think Syria will move toward more democratic ways than it has been over the last
40 years. Bashar and his advisers know that.”
Soliman said he is
convinced that Assad and the Syrian public are ready for peace with Israel.
“Syrians are ready for peace, but not peace at any price.
The Golan has
to be returned, no question about it,” he said. “The key to peace between Israel
and the Palestinians is peace between Israel and Syria...
Syria is the key to peace in the Middle East.”
In Homs, an activist told
Reuters that a Syrian Christian was killed by a shot from a sniper to the head,
and that the authorities were trying to increase sectarian tensions to undermine
prodemocracy demonstrations. “Homs is shaking with the sound of explosions from
tank shelling and heavy machine guns,” Najati Tayara said.
came a day after two senior officials told Western media that the Syrian
uprising was nearing an end, and that authorities would not stand down under any
Rami Makhlouf, a powerful 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,” Makhlouf said in a New York Times interview published on
The same day, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told the
paper, “we’ve passed the most dangerous moment... I hope we are witnessing the
end of the story.”
Anthony Shadid, the Times reporter who conducted both
interviews, was only allowed into the country for a few hours. The timing of the
exceedingly rare US media interviews by Syrian officials suggests the Assad
regime is taking extra measures to calm Western concerns about mounting
At least 750 people have been killed since protests began on
March 18, rights activists said.
Syrian first lady Asma Assad may be
living in a safe house in or near London, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported on
Tuesday, quoting a high-ranking Arab diplomat. “Her evacuation was carried out
under conditions of immense secrecy, but she is now safely there with her three
young children and surrounded by security guards,” the source
“Clearly her presence could cause huge embarrassment to the
British, so none of this has been made public.”
Syrian security forces
have released 300 people detained in Banias and restored basic services in the
coastal city stormed by tanks last week, Reuters reported, quoting a human
Water, telecommunications and electricity had been
restored, but tanks remained in major streets, the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights said on Tuesday. Two hundred people, including pro-democracy protest
leaders, were still in jail, it said.
Demonstrators in Banias had raised
posters of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has had close ties to
Assad, but disputed the official Syrian account of the violence.
said more than 1,000 civilians had died and he did not want to see a repeat of
the 1982 violence in Hama, Syria, or the 1988 gassing of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja,
when 5,000 people were killed.
In southern Syria, four civilians in Tafas
were killed as security forces widened a campaign of arrests, a human rights
campaigner in the region said, adding that 300 people had been detained since
tanks entered the town on Saturday.
Authorities have effectively barred
foreign journalists from Syria, but Martin Fletcher, chief foreign correspondent
for Britain’s The Times, was able to enter the country this week by posing as a
He was detained in Homs and for six hours was held in a
windowless basement underneath an apartment building on a barricaded side
street. He was not mistreated, but Fletcher’s experience gave him a rare view
into the workings of the Assad security apparatus.
“Quite clearly what
was happening, was the regime was rounding up any young man of fighting age it
could find on the streets and locking them up,” he told the BBC. Dozens of young
men were huddled on the basement floor, he said, and piles of belts and
shoelaces nearby, apparently for use in interrogation.
Homs was clearly
under martial law, Fletcher said, with police and armed thugs on every corner
and tanks guarding every major intersection.
Outside of Homs, at least
100 tanks were deployed in anticipation of further unrest, he said.
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