Dozens killed near Hama as Syrians move on Turkish border

65 reported dead in Deir al-Zor since tanks rolled in on Sunday.

Syrian army tanks 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)
Syrian army tanks 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)
Syrian forces killed at least 30 people Tuesday and moved into a town near the Turkish border, an activist group said, despite mounting international condemnation at the fivemonth- long crackdown that has left an estimated 1,600 people dead.
The National Organization for Human Rights said most of the fatalities occurred when troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles overran villages north of Hama, while four were killed in Binnish, 30 km. from the border with Turkey.
Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Assad regime has essentially backed itself into a corner.
“There’s no such thing as dialogue now – no dialogue will satisfy the Syrian population,” he said. “The regime understands this, and therefore my fear is it will continue to crack down unless the rest of the military defects.
“The Syrian military continues to have the capability to do a tremendous amount of damage to its own people. How long that will continue is unclear. I think the question now is if we see large-scale defections from the military,” Levitt said.
Despite growing criticism from Western, Arab and regional states, Assad’s forces also pursued an offensive in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, residents said.
An armored column pushed towards the center of Deir al- Zor on Tuesday, with troops storming houses and making arrests in the provincial capital of an oil region bordering Iraq’s Sunni heartland, a resident said.
“They are now about one kilometer from downtown.
When they finish with one district, they move to another,” said the resident.
Another resident said on Monday 65 people had been killed since tanks and armored vehicles barreled into the city, 400 km. northeast of Damascus on Sunday.
The British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said among the dead were a mother and her two children, an elderly woman and a girl.
Syria has expelled most independent media since the revolt began, making it hard to confirm accounts.
Syrian authorities have denied that any Deir al-Zor assault took place. The official state news agency said “not a single tank has entered Deir al- Zor” and reports of tanks in the city were “the work of provocateur satellite channels.” The authorities say they have faced attacks since the protests erupted in March, blaming armed saboteurs for civilian deaths and accusing them of killing 500 security personnel.
State television broadcast footage on Sunday of mutilated bodies floating in the Orontes river in Hama, saying 17 police had been ambushed and killed in the central Syrian city.
The official SANA news agency said on Monday the military was starting to pull out of Hama after it said it had helped restore order. Residents said there were still tanks in parts of the city and security forces were making arrests.
About 1,500 people were detained in Hama’s Jarajima district and troops killed three civilians, the Observatory said.
Activists say at least 130 people were killed in Hama, where Assad’s father crushed an armed Islamist uprising in 1982, and one group has put the death toll at over 300.
Like most of Syria, ruled by Assad’s minority Alawite family, Hama and Deir al-Zor are mainly Sunni cities, and the crackdowns there resonate with Sunnis, who form the majority in the region and govern most Arab countries.
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East