Syria PM: Gov't to propose political, economic reforms

Assad’s forces kill 70 in Deraa, protesters remain defiant; US-based dissident to ‘Post’: Assad "dead man walking."

Syrian masses protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian masses protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 Assad.
Residents said earlier they could hear heavy gunfire in the old city where the Omari Mosque, a focal point for protests, is located.
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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.”
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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.