Anti-Assad protests in Homs, Syria 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
AMMAN - A Syrian Alawite centrist political figure said on Tuesday that four of his relatives were shot or kidnapped in sectarian violence threatening to undermine a nine-month pro-democracy uprising.
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In a rare named testimony about sectarian killings that have racked the central city of Homs in the last few weeks, Mohammad Saleh told Reuters that the four were targeted because they were Alawites, the same sect as President Bashar Assad.
"The violence by the regime has provoked counter violence. But a crime is a crime and it has to be condemned," said Saleh, a former political prisoner, by phone from Homs, a city of one million, 140 kms (88 miles) north of Damascus
"I went to jail for a civilized Syria, not to replicate the values of the regime," said Saleh, who spent 12 years in jail for his opposition to Assad's father, the late president Hafez Assad, from whom Bashar inherited power in 2000.
Saleh said armed Sunni men killed Issa Abboud, a 60-year old relative of
his while he was loading a van with his belongings to escape with
relatives from the Madina al-Shababiya district of the city.
A youth helping them was hit in the stomach and is in hospital. A third relative present was abducted.
"They are related to me through my wife. The driver of the truck was
also killed. My nephew, Shadi Tammour, was separately kidnapped in Homs
today," said Salem.
"I was among a group (of notables) from different sects who went to
collect the bodies but the armed men did not let us take them. The
bodies were picked up only after armored security vehicles went into the
area," he added.
Fearing sectarian killings, thousands of Sunni families have escaped to
other cities or to Jordan and Lebanon, according to residents, while
thousands of Alawites have fled to ancestral mountain homes in villages
to the west.
In the last few weeks reports have increased of kidnappings of groups of
Sunnis and Alawites in the city, including women, although Alawite and
Sunni figures have been meeting to stop the abductions.
Saleh, 52, helped draft a declaration last month by Burhan Ghalioun,
president of the main opposition Syrian National Council, which called
for calming of sectarian tensions between Alawites and Sunnis in Homs,
but he said the whole opposition should take a firm stance against
"Those who do not condemn the crimes may just as well be partners in the crimes," Saleh said.
The declaration said kidnappings, assassinations and score-settling
"pose a dangerous threat to the gains of the revolution and offer a big
service to the regime".
Armed resistance emerged in Homs, along with street protests, in the
last two months, after Assad deployed troops and tanks in the city in
April to crush large demonstrations against his rule.
The mostly Sunni Muslim city has large Alawite neighborhoods, whose
residents were encouraged to move to Homs by offers of jobs in the state
sector and its security network.
An offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, members of the Alawite sect rose to power
in Syria five decades ago after controlling vital squadrons and
intelligence divisions in the military.
Allying with a Sunni merchant class in Damascus and Aleppo, the Alawite
ruling elite have since expanded their control on the state, key sectors
of the economy, the military and the security apparatus now cracking
down on a popular protest movement demanding an end to 41 years of Assad
The United Nations says the crackdown has killed 5,000 people. The
authorities, who blame "armed terrorist gangs" for the violence, say
1,100 army and police have been killed.
"I think the repression has killed far more than 5,000," said Saleh.
He said it may be too late for a peaceful solution unless a stalled Arab
League plan that calls for Assad to pull the military from cities and
negotiate with his opponents is agreed.
"I wanted the regime to go a long time ago, but dreaming is something
and reality is something else," Saleh said. "The most important thing
now is to stop the blood."