At least four protesters dead in latest Syrian violence

Demonstrations start up following prayers marking end of Ramadan; EU foreign affairs chief decries Assad-government violence.

By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF
August 30, 2011 15:36
4 minute read.
Syrian soldiers man tank (illustrative)

Syrian Tank 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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AMMAN - Security forces shot dead at least four demonstrators in southern Syria on Tuesday as crowds demanding the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad left mosques after prayers marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, residents and activists said.

The four, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed when forces fired at demonstrators streaming out of mosques in the towns of al-Hara and Inkhil in southern Deraa province.

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Demonstrations broke out elsewhere across the country, especially in Damascus suburbs, the city of Homs, 165 km to the north and the northwestern province of Idlib, even though numerous cities and towns have been besieged by tanks and troops for months, activists and residents said.

"The people want the downfall of the president," shouted protesters in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, where activists said dozens of soldiers defected on the weekend after refusing to shoot at protesters.

Five months into the street uprising against his autocratic rule, Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, is facing more frequent demonstrations, encouraged by the demise of Muammar Gaddafi's rule in Libya, with whom Assad had close ties, and rising international pressure on the ruling hierarchy.

Residents and activists have also reported increasing defections among Syrian troops, drawn mostly from the Sunni majority population but dominated by Alawite officers effectively under the command of Assad's younger brother Maher.

In the capital, YouTube footage showed soldiers from core units roaming the centre in big green public transport buses, their AK-47s hanging out from bus doors, to prevent protests, which broke out nonetheless in Qaboun, Kfar Souseh, Rukn al-Din and Maydan districts, activists said.



The Syrian National Human Rights Organisation, headed by exiled dissident Ammar al-Qurabi, said pro-Assad forces, including a loyalist militia known as shabbiha, had killed at least 3,100 civilians since the uprising erupted in March, including 18 people on Monday alone.

Syrian authorities blame "armed terrorist groups" for the bloodshed and say they have killed 500 soldiers and police.

An armored force surrounded a town near the city of Homs on Monday and fired heavy machineguns after the defection of tens of soldiers in the area, activists and residents said.

One woman, 45-year-old Amal Qoraman, was killed and five other people were injured, they said, adding that tens of people were arrested in house-to-house raids in the town of 40,000.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied that army defections have been taking place. They have expelled independent media since the uprising began in March.

European Union governments may impose sanctions on Syrian banks as well as energy and telecommunications companies within a week, along with a planned embargo on oil imports from the country, EU diplomats said on Monday.

European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement Tuesday expressing "deep concern about the violence perpetrated by the Syrian regime against peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and the Syrian people at large," and said that repression by the government in Damascus must stop.

Ashton criticized the Syrian regime's human rights violations, including the attack on cartoonist Ali Ferzat, "who was abducted and brutalized for having expressed his views," and for the "reckless and indiscriminate" attacks against the al-Ridai mosque in Damascus on the "most holy night of Ramadan."

Ferzat was brutally beaten up on the streets of Damascus by armed men who injured the artist's hands and bruised his face.

"All such attacks and the broad repression must immediately stop," Ashton said, adding that "detained protesters be released and a way opened toward the fulfillment of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

Meanwhile on Tuesday, despite continued international outcry and increased sanctions on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, there was no indication in Syria that violence between the government and its citizens was coming to a close. Syrian government forces shot dead at least four demonstrators in southern Syria when crowds demanding the removal of the Syrian president left mosques after prayers marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, residents and activists said.

The four, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed when forces fired at demonstrators streaming out of mosques in the towns of al-Hara and Inkhil in southern Deraa province after 'Id' prayers to mark the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan.


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