Syrian forces, backed by tanks, shelled parts of Deraa and stormed its
main mosque on Saturday, residents said, trying to quell resistance in
the city at the heart of a sevenweek uprising against President Bashar
RELATED:UN rights body condemns Syria, orders
probe'At least 62 killed in Syrian pro-democracy protests'
Residents said earlier they could hear heavy gunfire in the old city
where the Omari Mosque, a focal point for protests, is located.
At least 40 people were killed in Deraa on Friday, activists said, and another six on Saturday.
Roughly 70 people were reported killed nationwide over the weekend.
Farid Ghadry, the Syrianborn head of the US-based Reform Party of Syria,
told The Jerusalem Post he believes that Syria is descending into a
sectarian civil war, and that its president’s days are numbered.
Even if Assad survives a bit longer, Ghadry wrote in an email from
Washington, “he will be a dead man walking. It is hard to put humpty
dumpty back together. I cannot ever imagine anyone visiting with him or
dealing with him after what he has done.”
In Damascus, Al-Jazeera’s Rula Amin – one of the few journalist for
foreign news outlets still in Syria – reported that according to Deraa
residents, troops appeared at the home of Ahmad Sayasneh, Imam of Omari
Mosque, on Saturday and, not finding him, shot his son dead on the spot.
Amin said that in recent days Syrian television had aired confessions of
people who admitted to membership in terrorist organizations, and to
having been paid off by the imam. She later wrote on her Twitter feed,
“Omar Qashash, 85 years old, a leading member of the people’s Democratic
Party, was arrested in Aleppo today from a public park.”
Another opposition leader, Hassan Abdel Azim, was also reported arrested.
Around 100 people gatheredSaturday outside Al Jazeera’s offices in
Damascus, the Qatarbased network reported on its website, accusing it of
“lies” and “exaggeration” in its coverage of the protests.
“Al Jazeera, Jewish satellite channel” and “People of Qatar, curb your
Emir,” read placards brandished by the demonstrators, who also carried
photos of Assad.
An estimated 138 members of the ruling Ba’ath Party in the besieged town
of Rastan have resigned, a human rights campaigner in contact with the
town said Friday.
The activist added that the resignation declaration was being read out
at a demonstration in the town, 20 km. north of the city of Homs, when
members of military intelligence and gunmen loyal to Assad fired at the
crowd, killing 13.
Newly appointed Syrian Prime Minister Adel Safar said his government
would draw up a “complete plan” of political, judicial and economic
reforms, the state news agency SANA said on Saturday. SANA quoted Safar
as saying he would set up committees to propose new laws and amendments
to legislation in those areas.
Troops and tanks first swept into Deraa last Monday to crush
pro-democracy protests against Assad that have spread across the country
of 20 million, posing the biggest challenge to his rule and prompting
Western powers to impose sanctions. Assad’s brother, Maher, commands the
Fourth Mechanized Division that stormed the city on Monday.
A resident said Karak, a hilltop in Deraa’s old quarter, bore the brunt
of the shelling. “The shelling has stopped. There are snipers on the
roof of the mosque,” the resident told Reuters, adding that forces
appeared to be in control of the old quarter for the first time.
Deraa, a city near the border with Jordan with a population of 120,000,
is the cradle of a six-week uprising that began with demands for more
freedom, and an end to corruption.
It developed into a movement to overthrow Assad following a violent
state crackdown, in which a Syrian rights group said at least 500 people
had been killed.
The crackdown prompted Western powers to take their first concrete steps in punishing Syria for the bloodshed.
Washington imposed new sanctions on government figures, including
Assad’s brother and cousin. EU diplomats said they reached an initial
deal to impose an arms embargo and would consider further measures.
At a meeting in Brussels, ambassadors of EU governments gave preliminary
approval to an arms embargo and a ban on equipment used for repression,
such as body armor, explosives or vehicles that carry weapons. The
agreement will have to be formalized in the coming days.
Envoys also asked EU experts to prepare plans for possible travel bans
and asset freezes that could be imposed on the Syrian leadership,
diplomats said. EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said in a
statement after the meeting that the measures were intended to achieve
“an immediate change of policy by the Syrian leadership.”
“We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that those
responsible for the violence are held personally to account,” British
Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
On Friday, soldiers in Deraa killed 19 when they fired on protesters who
were trying to enter the city from nearby villages in a show of
solidarity, a medical source said. Al Jazeera’s Amin tweeted that
between 17,000 and 20,000 people from nearby villages marched on the
city. Syrian rights groups put Friday’s death toll at 62.
Demonstrations also flared on Friday in the central cities of Homs and
Hama, Banias on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishli in the Kurdish east,
Harasta, a Damascus suburb, and the capital itself.
SANA said on Friday that “armed terrorist groups” had killed soldiers
near Deraa. It said groups had opened fire on the homes of soldiers in
two towns near Deraa, and were repelled by guards. But a witness in
Deraa said Syrian forces fired live rounds at thousands of villagers who
descended on the besieged city.
A rights campaigner in Deraa said on Friday that makeshift morgues in
the city contained the bodies of 85 people he said had been killed since
the army stormed the city six days ago.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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