Syrian Protest 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian tanks surrounded a town near the border with Iraq’s Sunni heartland on
Sunday after tens of thousands, emboldened by defections among security forces,
took to the streets there denouncing President Bashar Assad.
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the minority Alawite sect, has sent troops to towns across the country to try to
end four months of protests against his rule. But activists say discontent is
growing within the mostly Sunni army rank and file.
carried out by ultra-loyalist units, are leading to limited defections within
the military, which is controlled by mostly Alawite officers who ultimately
answer to Assad’s feared brother Maher.
BBC reporter Ian Pannell snuck
into Syria this weekend and on Saturday the channel aired interviews he had
conducted with defecting Syrian soldiers.
“Every Thursday and Friday
people come out to protest for freedom,” said one defector. “Our commander,
Captain Hassan, gave us guns and told us that whenever we see a protester we
should fire at them at their legs. We didn’t fire though. The secret police have
a high-powered gun which they fired at buildings – they fired at people watching
from their balconies.”
“A regular soldier can’t do anything,” said
another soldier. “They put him in the first line of troops and behind them are
other troops. If the soldiers at the front refuse to fire on the people then the
soldiers behind will fire on the soldiers at the front.”
Syria’s fractured opposition is taking steps to unite, forming a 25-member
National Salvation Council composed of Islamists, liberals and independents at a
meeting in Istanbul on Saturday and agreeing to work toward a democratic
“We shall work toward reaching out toward other opposition groups
to lead the country toward the democratic vision we have,” prominent opposition
figure Haitham al-Maleh told Reuters after the oneday meeting.
1,400 civilians have been killed since the protests began in March, human rights
Some 1,000 troops and security forces backed by tanks
and helicopters surrounded Albu Kamal overnight, an impoverished eastern border
crossing town with Iraq, a day after Military Intelligence agents there killed
five protesters, including a 14- year-old boy, residents said.
killings drove thousands into the streets, overwhelming soldiers and secret
police. Residents said around 100 Air Force Intelligence personnel and the crew
of at least four armored vehicles joined the protesters.
people were rounded up in the area over the weekend.
returned several army personnel carriers today as a sign of good will. The
regime knows it will meet tough resistance if it attacks Albu Kamal, and that
Iraqi tribes on the other side of the border will rush to help their brethren,”
said one activist in the region, who declined to be named for fear of
Another activist said: “The whole of Albu Kamal went to the
streets after the killings. Several armored personnel carriers moved into the
center of the town to stop them, but ended joining sides with the human
Albu Kamal is on the eastern-most edge of the province of Deir
al-Zor, where hundreds of thousands protested on Friday.
The center of
Syria’s 380,000 barrels per day of oil output, the region is still among the
poorest in the country with little of the oil revenue invested in the
The official state news agency said “armed terrorist groups” killed
three security personnel in Albu Kamal on Saturday.
Syrian troops also
arrested on Sunday the prominent writer Ali Abdallah, a fierce critic of the
state’s use of violence.
“Ten soldiers entered my father’s house around 9
a.m. in the Damascus suburb of Qatana and took him. He just had heart surgery
three weeks ago,” Abdallah’s son Muhammad told Reuters by phone from exile in
Abdallah, a 61-year-old secular thinker, was released in May
after spending four years in prison because of his membership of the Damascus
Declaration, a pro-democracy group of intellectuals and opposition figures, and
his criticism of Assad’s alliance with Iran’s clerical rulers.
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