AFP. An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube shows a Syrian tank taking position on Al-Ramussa highway in the northern city of Aleppo on August 6. AFP is using images from alternative sources. Syria says its troops have seized a rebel-held Aleppo district after storming it and “annihilating” most of the insurgents, as a long-threatened ground assault on the key city was launched.<
DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syria said its troops seized a rebel-held Aleppo district on Wednesday after storming it and “annihilating” most of the insurgents, as a long-threatened ground assault on the key city was launched.
The claim was promptly denied by the rebels, who nonetheless acknowledged that a “barbaric and savage attack” on the neighbourhood of Salaheddin was under way.
The offensive came as Amnesty International raised concerns about the plight of civilians in the commercial capital and warned both sides they would be held accountable for any attacks on its residential areas.
State news agency SANA said “our brave armed forces have taken full control of the district of Salaheddin” and “inflicted heavy losses on groups of armed terrorists, killing or wounding a large number of them.”
Dozens of rebels had been captured, including foreigners, and others had surrendered, SANA said, adding troops had also seized a large number of arms “used by the terrorists to terrify the inhabitants and to murder members of the forces of order.”
For its part, state television said the “armed forces dealt violent blows to the mercenary terrorists” in Salaheddin, “annihilating most of the terrorists.”
Reacting to those claims, Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi of the rebel Free Syrian Army said “it is not true the regime army has seized control of the district.”
“It is true that there is a barbaric and savage attack,” he told AFP via Skype. “They are using all the weapons at their disposal to attack Salaheddin, including fighter jets, tanks and mortars.”
He said there was fighting in many districts, but that it was concentrated in Saleheddin because of the “great symbolic value for us and the army.”
A security official in Damascus said “the elimination of pockets of resistance should continue until Thursday morning. The army’s intention is then to seize the adjacent district of Seif al-Dawla, to the east.”
On Sunday, an official had said the army had massed 20,000 troops for the assault to recover Aleppo, of which the rebels claim they hold half. He said the insurgents had 6,000-8,000 men.
Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 civilians were killed in Aleppo and in the rest of the same province, with six more elsewhere in the country.
A total of 225 people — mostly civilians — died in Syria on Tuesday. That made it one of the worst days for casualties in the 17-month uprising that the Observatory said last week had cost more than 21,000 lives.
The neighbourhoods of Qatarji, Tariq al-Bab and Shaar also came under heavy shelling.
The Syrian Revolution General Council, a network of activists on the ground, reported overnight shelling in the neighbourhoods of Al-Kalassa, Shaar, Sukari and Tariq al-Bab as well as heavy artillery fire aimed at the Bustan al-Qasr and Fardoss districts.
In Lebanon, a dozen shells from the Syrian side of the border struck overnight, causing no casualties, a security official in northern Lebanon said.
Amnesty showed satellite images indicating an apparent increased use of heavy weapons in the area, and warned forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad attacks on civilians would not go unpunished.
“Amnesty International is sending a clear message to both sides in the fighting: Any attacks against civilians will be clearly documented so that those responsible can be held accountable,” Amnesty’s Christoph Koettl said.
The London-based watchdog said images from Anadan, a small town near Aleppo, revealed more than 600 probable artillery impact craters from the fierce fighting over the city.
It said an image from July 31 showed what seemed to be artillery impact craters next to what appeared to be a residential housing complex in Anadan.
Amnesty said it was concerned the deployment of heavy weaponry in residential areas would lead to further human rights abuses and grave breaches of international law.
On Tuesday, Assad vowed to crush the rebellion that erupted in March 2011.
“The Syrian people and their government are determined to purge the country of terrorists and to fight the terrorists without respite,” he was quoted by state news agency SANA as telling a visiting Iranian envoy, using his regime’s terminology for rebel fighters.
Assad had earlier appeared on television for the first time in more than two weeks in a meeting with Saeed Jalili, a top aide to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Jalili offered Assad his country’s backing, saying Tehran would “never allow the resistance axis — of which Syria is an essential pillar — to break.
“What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance on the one hand, and the regional and global enemies of this axis on the other,” he said.
On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said retired members of the Revolutionary Guards and army were among the 48 Iranians taken hostage in Syria by rebels.
“A number of the (hostages) are retired members of the Guards and the army. Some others were from other ministries,” Salehi was quoted as telling reporters as he flew back from Turkey, which he asked for help in freeing the Iranians.
It was the first time Tehran admitted any of those abducted had a connection to its military, having previously insisted the 48 Iranians were only pilgrims travelling to a Muslim holy site in Damascus.
On Tuesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Assad might make a “worst case scenario” retreat to an Alawite stronghold if he falls from power.
“I have a feeling that if he can’t rule Greater Syria, then maybe an Alawi enclave is Plan B,” Abdullah said in an interview with US television network CBS.
“That means that everybody starts land grabbing which makes no sense to me. If Syria then implodes on itself that would create problems that would take decades for us to come back from.”King Abdullah predicted Assad would keep up his brutal crackdown to cling to power because he “believes that he is in the right.”
BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare appearance with the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council on Tuesday in video footage broadcast on state television.
Assad has made one appearance since the assassination of four top security officials on July 18. In video footage broadcast the following day, he was shown swearing in a new defense minister.
Saeed Jalili, a top security official in Iran and the country’s lead nuclear negotiator, visited Damascus on Tuesday to discuss the fate of 48 Iranians captured by rebels just outside the capital on Saturday, as well as the ongoing crisis in Syria.
“Kidnapping innocent people is not acceptable anywhere in the world,” Jalili said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. He said Iran would do what it could to “secure release of the 48 innocent pilgrims kidnapped in Syria.”
He also said the only way to resolve the unrest in the country would be to find a “Syrian solution.”
The Iranian government claims that the captives were Shiite pilgrims on their way to Sayida Zeinab, a Muslim shrine south of Damascus that is popular with Shiites. But rebels assert that the Iranians belong to their country’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and were on a mission to help the Assad government battle Syria’s persistent 17-month-long uprising.
Jalili’s visit came a day after Syria’s prime minister defected to Jordan, becoming the most senior official to quit Assad’s embattled government, according to rebels who claim they helped him escape.
The reported defection of Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab buoyed the rebels, who saw it as a clear sign that top officials are abandoning Assad as he attempts
A statement attributed to Hijab and read on the al-Jazeera Arabic news channel Monday said he had resigned to protest his government’s harsh tactics in confronting the opposition.
“I am announcing that I am defecting from this regime, which is a murderous and terrorist regime,” the statement said. “I join the ranks of this dignified revolution.”
Real power in Syria is wielded by Assad’s inner circle of friends, family and the powerful chiefs of his security forces. But the defection of the head of Assad’s government nonetheless sent a strong signal that his support is rapidly unraveling even within the ranks of those assumed to still be loyal.
Hijab, a former agriculture minister and a member of the ruling Baath Party, is a Sunni Muslim from the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, which has been in open revolt against the government for more than a year.
Reuters news service quoted an unidentified Jordanian government official as confirming that Hijab had defected and taken refuge there. Syrian state television, however, reported that Hijab had been fired, less than two months after he was appointed to the job. Deputy Prime Minister Omar Galawanji was appointed as the head of a caretaker government, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
Hijab’s departure followed an accelerating stream of defections from Syria’s armed forces, including that of Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, a former confidant and close friend of Assad’s who fled to Turkey a month ago, then went to France to join his father, a once-powerful former defense minister.
A senior State Department official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in South Africa said that the defection, if confirmed, would represent “further evidence that the Assad regime is crumbling.’’
“Its days are numbered, and we call on other senior members of the regime and the military to break with the bloody past and help chart a new path for Syria — one that is peaceful, democratic, inclusive and just,’’ the senior State Department official said.
The Syrian military blasted Damascus and at least half a dozen cities around the country Monday with artillery as fierce clashes rocked the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s largest. At least 116 people were killed across Syria on Monday, including 30 in Aleppo and 29 in Damascus and its suburbs, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network.
In Damascus, a bomb exploded Monday in the state television offices, causing minor injuries, according to SANA. Photos taken after the blast, which hit the third floor of the building, showed a demolished roof with wires hanging down.
The complicated operation to get Hijab out of the country was completed in a series of carefully planned steps by the Free Syrian Army, according to Col. Malik Kurdi, a deputy commander with the rebel force.
“The prime minister and his family were transferred outside Syria to Jordan by separate vehicles and at different times,” Kurdi said. “The defectors cannot leave in an hour or a day. The process takes a long time, and there are many phases and routes.”
Jordanian authorities may not have initially known about Hijab’s entry into the country because he was brought via smuggling routes, Kurdi said. But Jordanian contacts eventually met him once he crossed the border. Kurdi predicted that the successful escape would lead to more defections among other top officials who have been thinking of leaving the country.
Sly reported from Antakya, Turkey. Anne Gearan in South Africa, Greg Miller in Washington, and Suzan Haidamous and Ahmed Ramadan in Beirut contributed to this report.
A member of the Free Syria Army walks past a destroyed Syrian forces tank in the town Atareb in northern Aleppo province
(CNN) — Despite the escalating violence in Syria that led to the suspension of monitoring activities, the United Nations can continue to play a crucial role in the embattled country, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a report to be presented to the Security Council.
An advance copy of the report, which is circulating among Security Council members, was obtained by CNN ahead of a Wednesday briefing on Syria to the council by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.
The document outlines the efforts to implement a six-point plan that would impose a cease-fire and take measures to protect human rights, and admits that it has not worked.
In some places, the levels of violence are even higher today than they were before an initial cease-fire attempt, the report says.
The 300-strong U.N. team in Syria, whose mission is to observe and help implement the plan, has been unable to do its work as envisioned because of present conditions, the document states.
Last month, the United Nations announced that it was pulling back its unarmed monitors because of escalating violence. Opposition groups slammed the international body for the suspension of its work.
The U.N. mission’s role in Syria was based on the premise that there would be a cessation to the violence, and failing that, “a calibration of effort in response to the situation on the ground would be appropriate,” Ban writes.
Basically, the three options Ban puts on the table are: withdrawing the U.N. team, increasing its size or adding armed protection for them; or retooling the mission of the current team.
Ban elaborates the most on the idea to shift the strategy of the current U.N. team.
The team could retain its military observer capability and continue its fact-finding work, but with a limited scope in light of the violence in Syria, the report says.
In this scenario, the U.N. mission would move its personnel from the field back to Damascus, where it would focus on pushing forward the six-point plan to the Syrian government and the opposition.
“From a central hub in Damascus, the civilian component would continue liaison and dialogue with opposition and Government representatives in the provinces as security conditions allow,” Ban writes.
The other options — withdrawal or augmentation of the force — could have more negative consequences than good, the report concludes.
Withdrawing from Syria would ensure the safety of the team, but it could signal a loss of confidence in the hopes of a cease-fire and leave the U.N. without a way to monitor progress, the report says.
“(Withdrawing) would likely precipitate a further blow to efforts to stabilize the situation on the ground, and render the prospect of a negotiated Syrian-led transition, as laid out by the Action Group, more difficult,” Ban writes.
Expanding the size of the mission, with or without armed protection, poses an “unacceptably high” security risk, given that there are no signs of the violence receding immediately, the report says.
These options must be considered, Ban writes, because “in spite of the best efforts of (the mission) to support the parties in the effort to de-escalate the crisis, there is not a cessation of violence, and the basic human rights whose protection is at the core of the (six-point) plan continue to be violated,” the report says.
According to the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria, 71 people, including 10 defectors, were killed across the country.
In fighting in Aleppo Province since Friday, four Syrian troops and one opposition fighter were killed, another group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Heavy fighting was reported in Idlib, where the town of Al-Tamani’a was shelled by forces who tried to raid it, the group said.
Shelling was reported in several suburbs of Damascus.
The state-run SANA news agency reported at least four different incidents where “terrorist” attacks were foiled by security forces throughout the country. According to the agency, more than 11 fighters it identified as “terrorists” were killed by security forces, and at least 10 vehicles, some with weapons inside, were destroyed.
CNN cannot independently verify government and opposition claims of casualties because access to Syria by international journalists has been severely curtailed.
April 13, 2012 01:48 AM By Lauren Williams The Daily Star
Syrian forces were still present in restive cities.
BEIRUT: Mass demonstrations are planned Friday across Syria in a test of the commitment to a fragile and internationally backed cease-fire.
The cease-fire, brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, appeared to largely hold after coming into effect at dawn Thursday, giving brief respite from a violent crackdown that has seen upwards of 9,000 people killed.
But in a symptom of mutual distrust that the truce would hold, government and opposition activists traded allegations of breaches, accusing each other of trying to wreck the peaceful intentions of the deal.
Apparently anticipating large-scale demonstrations, the Syrian government issued a last-minute demand that protesters request permits.
“The right to demonstrate peacefully is guaranteed by law. We call on citizens to apply the law by requesting a permit before demonstrating,” said a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.
The Foreign Ministry said the measure was aimed at “securing the safety of citizens and to practice this right in a civilized manner.”
The demand is unlikely to be heeded.
Several protests were staged Thursday and online activist groups urged Syrians from all religions and political movements to take to the street Friday.
“Sham network” posted a promotional video urging people to take part.
“O, you who are hesitant, either abandon your silence [now], or remain silent forever,” said the video, which featured footage of people said to be from different religious groups that had been affected by the violence.
The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, meanwhile called on people to turn out in force Friday for peaceful protests under the slogan “a revolution for all Syrians.” He urged the international community to provide protection to Syrians who take to the streets by sending observers.
“Tomorrow, like every Friday, the Syrian people are called to demonstrate even more and put the regime in front of its responsibilities – put the international community in front of its responsibilities,” he said.
“We call on the people to demonstrate and express themselves … The right to demonstrate is a principle point of the plan,” Ghalioun said.
The truce deadline was part of a six-point peace plan that Syria agreed with Annan, under which Assad’s government is to allow peaceful demonstrations, pull troops from population centers, release arbitrarily detained people and allow humanitarian aid and international media into the country.
While crediting the cease-fire as largely holding Thursday, Annan told the Security Council Syria had not fully complied with the terms and called for the swift deployment of a U.N. monitoring force to oversee implementation of the plan.
A draft resolution to send an advance team of some 30 unarmed observers in the coming days, to be immediately followed by a force that could number several hundred, was submitted late Thursday.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said a U.N. peacekeeping general could be dispatched as early as Friday.
The U.N. chief said the world was watching the regime’s actions with “skeptical eyes.”
“The onus is on the government of Syria to prove that their words will be matched by their deeds at this time,” Ban told reporters in Geneva.
“This cease-fire process is very fragile. It may be broken any time,” Ban added, saying “another gunshot” could doom the truce.
Syrian allies Russia and China, which have twice vetoed Council resolutions condemning Assad’s 13-month assault on anti-government protesters but are strong supporters of Annan’s peace efforts, urged Damascus and the opposition to meet all the terms and conditions of Annan’s plan.
“I have a hard time seeing how Russia could be opposed to this draft resolution,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Barack Obama of the United States also demanded that Syria respect the terms of the peace plan. In a joint statement, the leaders vowed to find a way “for humanitarian aid to be delivered, and for the Syrian people to freely choose their destiny.” And they warned: “Those responsible for abuses will have to answer for their crimes.”
Syria’s U.N. envoy Bashar Jaafari said that Syria is committed to cooperating and that Damascus had already complied with calls to withdraw troops from Syrian towns but complained that “eight violations took place this morning by the armed [rebel] groups.”
State media accused rebels of jeopardizing the plan by bombing a bus ferrying troops to their base in Syria’s second-largest city Aleppo.
“An armed terrorist group used an explosive device to target a bus transporting officers and noncommissioned officers to their unit in Aleppo. It killed a lieutenant colonel” and wounded 24 others, state news agency SANA said.
Activists accused the government of using the bombing as a pretext to legitimize further crackdowns.
Opposition groups said there was no evidence troops had pulled back and pointed to further evidence of killings, albeit on a far smaller scale than in recent weeks.
SNC spokeswoman Bassma Khodmani said, “we have concrete proof that heavy weapons are still in population centers … The real test will be if there is shooting or not when people demonstrate.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had not seen any troop withdrawals and reported seven people, including five civilians, had been killed and dozens more wounded by sniper fire. The head of the group, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said several others had died from injuries and torture, but reported no shelling.
Several videos of other cease-fire breaches by Syrian forces were circulated on the Internet. Some were discounted as fake.
There are concerns that cease-fire demands to disparate and loosely organized armed opposition groups operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army may prove difficult to implement.
An FSA commander however, insisted the group was “100 percent committed” to the cease-fire. “The regime is being elusive. We are 100 percent committed to the cease-fire, but the regime is not abiding by it,” FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine told AFP by Internet.
Days before the April 10 deadline for Syria to abide by a United Nations-backed peace plan, 54 people were reported killed across the country.
Just days before the deadline for Syria to abide by aUnited Nations-backed peace plan, 54 people were reported killed across the country Wednesday, including 25 in the city of Homs as shelling and sniper fire there continued.
In the days since PresidentBashar Assadagreed to an April 10 deadline for a cease-fire, activists and observers have said the government’s crackdown against dissidents has intensified.
In Beit Sahm, aDamascussuburb, 15 civilians were reported killed in an explosion that destroyed two buildings. The opposition and the government each blamed the other for the incident.
State media reported that a building collapsed after explosive devices detonated in the basement as “terrorists” were putting them together. A nearby building was damaged, the Syrian Arab News Agency said.
Activists said a family that had fled from nearby Duma was killed in the building, and they blamed Assad’s forces. A pro-regime TV station was on the scene in less than 15 minutes to film the wreckage, according to the Revolutionary Council in the Damascus Suburbs, an observation often made by opposition activists to suggest that the quick response indicates the explosion was the work of the government.
Despite the continued crackdown, the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of opposition groups, reported numerous protests Wednesday, several calling for solidarity with Taftanaz, a town in Idlib province that was attacked Tuesday and described by some as a disaster area.
Taftanaz reportedly was bombarded by government warplanes, which have increasingly been used in recent weeks, according to activists and rebel fighters. At least 20 people were killed Tuesday and the attacks continued Wednesday, they said.
In Homs, where several neighborhoods were still being shelled, a Red Crescent distribution center was burned, government and aRed Crossofficial said.
The center was preparing to distribute humanitarian aid, including medicine, food, blankets and mattresses, said Saleh Dabbakeh, Damascus spokesman for theInternational Committee of the Red Cross. No one was inside at the time.
This was not the first time property or aid volunteers have been attacked, he said, citing carjackings and kidnappings.
“Whether it was on purpose or by accident, these people are volunteers and they are internationally protected people,” Dabbakeh said. “First and foremost, it is a loss for the people and in the greatest time of need.”
Syrian state media blamed the fire on “an armed terrorist group.”
A car bomb has hit Syria’s second city, Aleppo, a day after 27 people were killed when blasts rocked Damascus.
The car bombing came as security forces arrested and beat activists at a rare anti-government protest in the centre of the capital.
The British-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least three people had been killed and 25 wounded by the explosion close to a state security office in Aleppo.
The state news channel Syria TV said the “terrorist” attack had been between two residential buildings in the al-Suleimaniya district, behind a post office building.
It showed building fronts blasted open, masonry littering the street and a blood-spattered street corner.
Activists and the government traded blame for the explosion, as they have over previous bombings.
The TV channel showed pictures of bloody bodies and charred buildings from earlier blasts. “Their gift to us,” said a caption, followed by a bloody handprint. “Their fingerprints are obvious.”
But an activist in Aleppo from the opposition’s local Revolutionary Council said the government was behind the attack.
“These explosions are always done by the regime to discourage people from joining the revolution … they want to make our uprising seem like a terrorist operation to the rest of the world, but it is not,” said the activist, who called himself Marwan and spoke to Reuters by phone.
The opposition reported heavy raids by security forces and fighting with rebels in northern and southern Syrian provinces and suburbs of Damascus.
In the capital, as crowds gathered for memorials to victims of Saturday’s car bombs, security forces broke up an opposition march of more than 200 people when protesters began shouting: “The people want to topple the regime.”
The phrase has echoed through the wave of Arab uprisings that began last year and has preceded the overthrow of autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
“They were walking through an area in central Damascus, near Sana [the state news agency],” said Rami Abdelrahman from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“At first they shouted slogans against violence and the police didn’t do anything, but as soon as they started to call for regime change the police rushed in and started beating people with canes.”
The protest, which called for nonviolent resistance to the government, had been led by moderate opposition leaders previously tolerated by the regime because of their calls for dialogue and rejection of foreign intervention.
Activists said Sunday’s march aimed to commemorate the peaceful roots of Syria’s uprising, which have been overshadowed by a growing armed insurgency against state security forces.
The UN says more than 8,000 people have been killed by security forces in the crackdown on a revolt against four decades of rule by the Assad family.
‘Massacre’ in Homs leaves 45 women, children dead, Syrian activists say #Syria
(CNN) — At least 45 women and children were killed in the Syrian city of Homs late Sunday, opposition activists said, hours after the U.N. special envoy to Syria met with the country’s president in an effort to reach a diplomatic solution to end the violence.
The killings occurred in the Homs neighborhood of Karm al Zaytoun, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist network.
Hadi Abdallah, a spokesman for the Syrian Revolution General Council, told CNN there were 47 victims — all stabbed to death and burned after “Syrian forces and thugs” stormed their homes.
The LCC described the killings as a “massacre orchestrated by the regime” of President Bashar al-Assad.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports of casualties or attacks in Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists.
The claims of fresh violence occurred the same day Kofi Annan, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, departed the country after two days of talks with al-Assad.
On Saturday, Annan proposed a cease-fire, the release of detainees and allowing unfettered access to agencies such as the Red Cross to deliver much needed aid, a U.N. statement said.
“It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be difficult, but we have to have hope,” Annan said Sunday after meeting with al-Assad for a second day.
Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, also proposed a start to an inclusive political dialogue that would “address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the people.”
It was unclear whether al-Assad offered any assurances that he would agree to the proposals laid out by Annan. When asked whether he received promises of a cease-fire or the acceptance of humanitarian assistance, Annan responded, “(those are) some issues we’re discussing with the president.”
The reported deaths of women and children in Karm al Zaytoun brought the total number of deaths across the country Sunday to 78, according to activist groups.
A livestream from a neighboring town purported to show some of the bodies from the massacre.
Syrian state TV said the bodies shown were killed by “armed terrorist groups,” a consistent phrase the government has used to explain the carnage. But the vast majority of reports from inside Syria indicate the regime is killing civilians en masse in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking al-Assad’s ouster.
Earlier Sunday, opposition groups reported violent clashes between Syrian government forces and defectors and said government forces were randomly shelling civilian areas.
In the Idlib province village of Aljanoudeyah, the LCC said shelling by government forces destroyed three buildings. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 19 people were killed in Idlib.
The London-based Observatory also said Syrian forces also shelled a bridge over the Assi River west of Rastan. The bridge had been used by residents trying to flee the city, according to the group.
The attack destroyed the bridge, the group said.
In addition to his meeting with al-Assad, Annan also met with members of the opposition as well as business and religious leaders.
“The transformational winds blowing today cannot be long-resisted,” Annan said. “I have urged the president to heed the old African proverb: ‘You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail.’ The realistic response is to embrace change and reform.”
At least 33 people died Sunday in places such as Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Daraa, Hama and the countryside around the capital of Damascus, opposition activists said.
Meanwhile, in a phone call with a Binish town elder, a major general in al-Assad’s military demanded the people of Binish hand over weapons used by defected soldiers and the rebel Free Syrian Army within 24 hours or the town will be bombed and stormed early Monday morning, according to the Binish Coordination Committee, part of the LCC.
SANA reported that what it called terrorist groups killed a boxing champion in Aleppo and two special forces troops in the province of Hama. The news agency also said an official of the Baath Arab Socialist Party was kidnapped in the al-Ghouta area of Homs.
The meetings Saturday and Sunday between al-Assad and Annan were the first time in Syria’s yearlong crisis that al-Assad met with such a high-level diplomat. But the Syrian president quashed the possibility of negotiating with the opposition anytime soon.
Syrian state-run media said al-Assad told Annan that he was ready to find a solution, but that such an effort would first require a look at reality on the ground and not rely on what “is promoted by some regional and international countries to distort the facts and give a picture contrary to what Syria is undergoing.”
He also reiterated that “political dialogue or action cannot take place or succeed if there are terrorist armed gangs on the ground that are working on spreading chaos and target the stability of the homeland,” the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said.
Both Annan and opposition members agreed that plans for a resolution cannot be implemented as long as the bloodshed continues.
“It is too early to apply a plan to resolve the crisis,” said Abdel Aziz al-Khair, a member of the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change. “The situation on the ground … is catastrophic.
The United Nations says more than 7,500 have died in the past year, and at least one activist group says more than 9,000 people have been killed.
CNN’s Saad Abedine, Kareem Khadder, Salma Abdelaziz, Hamdi Alkhshali, Ian Lee and Kamal Ghattas contributed to this report.
By Anne Applebaum,
“We are not pretending that the human rights situation in Syria is perfect. . . . We are aware that there is a regression in the quality of services usually provided by the government to the population by the regions facing violence.”
— Fayssal al-Hamwi, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations,in Geneva on Feb. 28
On Sunday, Syrians “voted” in a constitutional referendum that reflected “ citizens’ keenness on moving forward with the reform process ,” in the words of the government’s news agency. On the same day, 17 people were killed in Homs by the government’s military forces, while the International Red Cross tried, and failed, to negotiate safe passage for the wounded out of the city. The Syrian regime now has two faces: the pseudo-democratic one it turns to the outside world, and the vicious one it turns on its own people.
Although that contrast is clear, a Western military coalition of the willing isn’t going to emerge quickly on behalf of Syria, as it did for Libya. Syria’s ethnic divisions resemble those in Iraq, its ruling clique is sustained by Iran, its opposition is chaotic and some of its population is so scared of what might come next that they may be inclined to support the regime. The Syrian army has better weapons than the Libyan army (which itself collapsed only in the nick of time, just before NATO’s ammunition ran out), and Western publics are war-weary. But before we throw up our hands and let the Saudis send jihadists to “help” the Syrian rebels (like they once “helped” the Afghan mujaheddin), we have several more cards to play.
One involves taking Syria’s human rights rhetoric seriously — and turning it against the regime. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others have collected, compiled and published evidence of the regime’s abuses, including the names and positions of Syrian officers who ordered soldiers to fire on unarmed demonstrators; accounts of torture and arbitrary detention; descriptions of rape, abuse and murder of children; and evidence of the mass slaughter of regime opponents over many years.
It’s time to refer this material to the United Nations, the Arab League, the International Criminal Court (not a body I like, but since it exists we should use it); to hand it publicly to Syrian officials; to read it in Arabic on the radio; to use it in statements and at news conferences. A single speech by the American president or the British prime minister that named the criminal Syrian army officers could have an enormous impact, once it has been beamed back into Syria via radio, satellite TV, the Internet and word of mouth.
Western leaders have refrained from this kind of language because, as Hillary Clinton put it this week, using labels like “war criminal” to describe Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, can “limit options to persuade leaders to step down from power.” She is right — which is why rhetoric aimed at delegitimizing the regime should be accompanied by immediate and strenuous efforts to not only unify the opposition but also to get its disparate members talking about the post-Assad future. Syrian rebels need to start talking about transitional justice: how, exactly, former regime allies will be treated, how real criminals will be distinguished from mere collaborators, how victims will be compensated and how the minority rule of a dictatorial clan can be ended without bloodshed.
This isn’t an impossible dream: South Africa managed to avoid civil war, in an analogous (though hardly identical) situation. Violence there was avoided in part because the outgoing minority participated in the transition. If some of the Alawite elite can be persuaded to do the same, Syria stands a chance of avoiding civil war. There isn’t anybody to talk to in Assad’s immediate circle; all have blood on their hands. But if the Syrian rebels can reassure others in Damascus, Alawites as well as Christians, that they won’t become the targets of a campaign of revenge, then they stand a better chance of persuading more people to switch sides. The crucial moment of the revolution — when the regime’s supporters begin to sympathize with their opponents — may be fast approaching.
One way or another, this conflict will end. Assad will fall — or he will remain in power thanks to a bloodbath, followed by another era of sullen repression. Either way, one of the best things the West can do is help Syrian rebels and the Syrian diaspora think about what might come next. It seems ridiculous to focus on the future in the middle of a crisis. But in this case, that might be the only way the crisis can be resolved.
Anne Applebaum is director of political studies at the London-based Legatum Institute and writes a monthly column for The Post. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spanish journalist tells of life inside besieged Baba Amr, escape #Syria
(CNN) — Spanish photographer Javier Espinosa painted a harrowing picture of life inside the shattered center of Syrian resistance in Homs in the days before a full-scale assault by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Espinosa, who works for the Spanish daily El Mundo, was one of four journalists who escaped this week from Baba Amr, a neighborhood of about five square miles that was shelled for 26 consecutive days before Syrian forces began an assault.
“It’s an enormous tragedy,” Espinosa told Anderson Cooper during an interview that aired Thursday on CNN’s “AC360.”
“And the latest news I have is that it is almost finished because they don’t have any more ways of resisting the advance of the army.”
Espinosa escaped Baba Amr on Sunday just days before Syrian forces began an assault on the neighborhood that culminated Thursday with rebels announcing a “tactical retreat,” saying they were withdrawing to protect the civilians in the neighborhood.
The announcement by the opposition came at the same time Syrian forces seized control of the neighborhood.
Apparently, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency did not get the message that Espinosa had escaped.
Citing a source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, it reported Thursday that authorities had discovered the body of Espinosa along with those of Colvin and Ochlik after the Syrian Army “cleansed Baba Amr from the foreign-backed armed groups of terrorists.”
After DNA analysis confirms the identities, the bodies will be handed over to the embassies of Poland, on behalf of the U.S. Embassy, France and Spain, it said.
In an interview from Beirut, Espinosa said that the report of his death “would be a nice joke” if not for the suffering of the people of Baba Amr.
Espinosa described a dire humanitarian crisis in Homs, with dwindling food, water and medical supplies. In Baba Amr, the situation was worse.
“They had nothing. They didn’t receive (anything) at all,” he said.
Espinosa was in the makeshift media center during last week’s shelling by Syrian forces that killed American Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times of London and French photographer Remi Ochlik and wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier of La Monde newspaper.
When rockets began striking the media center, Espinosa and the other journalists were told by an opposition activist to get out of the building that was taking direct hits.
But when the activist “heard the sound of an incoming shell,” he tried to turn the journalists back, Espinosa said.
Espinosa said he was able to take cover by a wall.
“But Marie and Remi were already outside, and they received the full explosion of the rocket,” he said.
Espinosa described the shelling by Syrian forces as “systematic.”
He described a typical day in the neighborhood as one of routine horror: Shelling began at 6 a.m. and continued until 1 p.m., when the army stopped for precisely one hour. “They just stop for lunch,” he told CNN. At 2 p.m., the shelling resumed until 6 p.m., when it ended until picking up again the following morning, he said.
Espinosa escaped to Lebanon with British journalist Paul Conroy, who was also wounded in the shelling attack.
Espinosa and Conroy fled Baba Amr along with Bouvier and French photographer William Daniels.
But Bouvier and Daniels were forced to turn back after they were targeted by Syrian security forces, according to the opposition group Avaaz, who says its activists helped guide the four out of Syria.
A second evacuation attempt on Tuesday moved Daniels and Bouvier to a safer neighborhood in Homs, and then on Wednesday the opposition activists got the two out along with a number of civilians.
The French Embassy in Beirut said Bouvier was in stable condition on Friday and expected to be flown to France later in the day.
How my Syrian adventure became a nightmare.
BY STEPHEN STARR | FEBRUARY 29, 2012
A bloated dead donkey greeted me as I entered Syria in January 2007. “Welcome to Assad’s Syria” read a huge billboard hanging over the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey.
The first person I spoke to upon arriving in Damascus was a machine gun-toting soldier guarding a government building. “Where is the Harameih hostel?” I asked. He had no idea what I was saying, never mind what I wanted.
Mosquito and bedbug bites, sunstroke and diarrhea. Agonizing Arabic-language classes and cold showers thrice daily. Weight loss. Dust. I had no idea how I had found myself in this country. But I would stay five years, before the horrors of the country’s incipient civil war drove me away this month.
There were also delights: Christian celebrations in churches so small the mellow voices in a mini-choir of two filled the entire chapel. Visiting mysterious Druze communities in remote mountain hamlets, where men drive tiny tractors filled with the green of freshly picked apples. The green, brown, and yellow mountains. Delectable meshawe — roasted chicken soaked in olive oil and crushed garlic — barbeques. How Damascus smells on summer nights.
Working as an editor at the state-run Syria Times newspaper in 2007 and 2008 would see me immersed in Arab literature, politics, debate, and news — or so I thought.
I was naive. Most workers — they cannot be called journalists — holding senior positions at the Syria Times were Alawite. Few even spoke English. We shared offices with the Arabic title Tishreen, and most news came down from the state news agency, SANA.
Even then, dissent simmered just below the surface. Translators fresh out of university mocked the regime and the “newspaper.” The tea room employed four boys where one sufficed — brothers, sons, cousins of someone up the chain — but loyal. Syria Times closed in June 2008, but today employees are still being paid $150 per month.
Despite its problems, Syria seemed to be prospering back then. The World Bank recorded that Syria’s GDP grew at a healthy 6 percent annual clip from 2004 to 2009. An explosion of Kia and Hyundai cars clogged the streets, and new private banks provided easy credit to anyone with a little cash or a stable job.
In Damascus, at least, laptops flourished in Western-style cafes. The $4 coffee arrived in 2010, and then iPhones and Cinnabon bakeries. Syria’s rapid modernization spurred massive migration to urban centers, while in the countryside to the northeast, hundreds of thousands of farmers fled starvation from a devastating drought. They drove taxis at night and lived in Harasta, Qaboun, and Madamia, satellite towns of Damascus where rent was cheap — and that are now centers of protest.
Then the uprising began, and everything changed. In Damascus, disbelief was followed by fear and then dejection as the protests spread throughout the country. January brought a sense of siege. Hundreds of concrete barriers appeared around security and military facilities, deepening the sense of fear and foreboding. Men queued overnight for heating fuel, already inflated in price, and returned home empty-handed the following morning to cold wives and children.
In Syria’s halls of power, officials made gestures toward the carrot — “There is corruption, and we need to root it out,” numerous government officials remarked in public during the early days of the revolt last spring.
At the same time, however, regime heavyweights reached enthusiastically for the stick. The calculus seemed to be that if the regime let a single town square go free anywhere in the country, it would crumble.
Since the beginning of 2012, the state of affairs across Syria has deteriorated further. In Qatana, a largely Sunni town 20 miles southwest of Damascus, tanks have returned to the streets. Locals must now do without electricity for 12 hours each day.
In Jdeidet Artouz, a religiously mixed town of Sunnis, Christians, and Alawites southwest of Damascus where I lived for 18 months, recent weeks have seen dozens of protesters become hundreds. They block street traffic using huge free-Syria flags. Yet the security forces drive by the demonstrations in cars adorned with symbols of the regime — and do nothing.
I asked my local shopkeeper why the authorities are not breaking up the protests.
“Do you watch Tom and Jerry?” he replied. “Here it is the same; they are playing a game.”
The waiting game is also being played in the capital. Damascenes watch footage from Homs, but do not act. A few — those who have family and friends killed or tortured by the regime — are taking to the streets in increasing numbers, but the majority remain silent.
“We are not used to this,” Damascenes constantly told me. They see Homs and think that nothing is worth the same devastation visiting their own streets and homes.
Almost every week, friends and acquaintances disappear. Close friendships are consigned to the past because, when you’re on the run from the security forces, you don’t have money for phone credit.
Conversation dies after 11 months of unrest. “What can we talk about?” a state employee asked me. “The news? We’d rather talk about anything else.” Many are not afraid to criticize the regime, but most are too frightened to take to the streets.
Syria’s minorities are frozen in fear. Christians spend hours watching the television station run by Adnan al-Arour, a Salafi Syrian cleric based in Riyadh who broadcasts videos of rebels shouting Islamic slogans andissues threats to pro-Assad minorities while calling for the establishment of an Islamic government. “Who will protect us?” one Christian woman asked me recently. “Will they make us wear Islamic dress?”
Ultimately it was the scenes at Saqba in eastern Damascus that prompted me to leave. An English journalist in Syria on a temporary visa asked whether I was interested in visiting to search out an underground, activist-run hospital. Frustrated at hearing of other journalists making it to Homs, I could not turn down the opportunity.
I saw six bloated bodies hidden under pine trees inside a schoolyard, some missing eyes, lips, noses. Another dead man blackened by fire. They were hidden by locals so that their families could bury them in dignity at a later time, when the regime’s forces left.
I feared that if the Syrian security forces found out what I had seen, they would not hesitate to silence me — perhaps blaming the “armed gangs” for doing so.
As the sound of shells thudding into the Damascus suburbs kept me awake, I got a taste of many Syrians’ fears of the regime’s pervasive security forces. Every morning I held my breath when turning the ignition of my car. Footsteps on the stairs outside my door made me sit upright on the sofa.
The regime remains strong, say many.
State employees are still being paid on time each month. Police can still be seen at their traffic-light posts every morning. Families continue to turn out in droves to eat sandwiches at the few city malls where electric generators help maintain a semblance of normalcy.
Damascenes have lived with this regime for decades and know it only really understands the way of the gun. It is a regime that scoffs at political ideals, a family fiefdom forged long ago in an absurd tribal pride that values a misplaced honor and personal ego over all. It can smuggle and steal, and it is not afraid to shoot and kill —but it will not negotiate or compromise.
For many Syrians, the political opposition offers little. Flying the free-Syria flag off a bridge in the capital for five minutes will not hasten the end of the regime. Blocking roads by pouring diesel in front of cars, as happened recently in the capital’s center, will not draw Damascus’s silent majority — those who bought Kias and Hyundais in 2009 — to the side of the opposition.
Nor does the opposition’s ever-escalating violence hold any prospect of bringing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to its knees. This month, members of the Free Syrian Army surrounded an army checkpoint outside Homs and tried to convince the troops to “defect and join” them. They failed — and a strategy of trying to intimidate the Syrian army through superior firepower is bound to fail on a grander scale.
The soldiers and security officers bombarding Homs’s restive neighborhoods and shooting up Daraa and Idlib won’t lay down their weapons and run en masse to join the defectors anytime soon. They think that the regime is right and that they are locked in a struggle to the death with the gunmen. And they are fighting armed men, now.
The regime will spend hours of broadcasting time telling Syrians how the journalists who have been reporting from Homs — and are now trapped there — entered Syria illegally and are probably assisting the “terrorist gangs.” And they will convince thousands.
Although perhaps inevitable, the militarization of the opposition has been the greatest disaster of the uprising. The regime has exploited this fact by granting visas for dozens of foreign journalists to make the case that the regime is, in fact, fighting armed gangs.
And support for those armed men is far from universal. “When the army sees men with guns, they will try kill them; they will shoot them down,” a youth in Saqba told me this month. “I hate the Free Syrian Army. They are gone, and we are here with our smashed homes.”
Bearing witness to a country falling apart is a sobering experience. Cars don’t stop at traffic lights or for traffic police. Security officers manning checkpoints slip their hands into cars’ glove compartments without asking. But when I speak to Syrians, the most troubling aspect — though few appear to realize it — are the growing divisions between them.
Christians complain how beggars take all their money back to the mosque. Most Damascenes, who as one observer eloquently noted “are waiting for a winner and then they will support them,” don’t give a damn about their fellow Syrians in Homs and Daraa.
But one thing is certain: The Assad regime will fall. Its policy of maintaining thousands of security minions at dozens of locations across the country is unsustainable. The cash it has hoarded and stolen will run out, and it will no longer be able to pay its gangsters and public-sector employees, leading to millions more hungry Syrians on the streets calling for change. At some point, probably within 18 months, army defections will reach a tipping point, and massive numbers of Sunni soldiers will run home or rush to defend besieged neighborhoods such as Baba Amro. Meanwhile, Christians and other minorities will refuse to pick up guns and shoot their fellow Syrians for Assad.
Syria’s uprising, however, may not end with Assad’s demise. Even after the dictatorship crumbles, there will be 22 million people who will have a hell of a lot of issues with one other — and Assad will no longer be around to be blamed for the poor state of their lives. Responsibility for Syria will not come from the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, or the local policeman — it will have to come from each individual. Syrians will have to decide for themselves where they want their country to go.
In this Feb. 18, 2012 citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and accessed on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012, anti-Syrian regime mourners carry the coffins of two protesters according to Syrian activists that were killed by the Syrian security forces during a demonstration, at Mazzeh district in Damascus, Syria. Syrian security forces fired live rounds and tear gas Saturday at thousands of people marching in a funeral procession that turned into one of the largest protests in Damascus since the 11-month uprising against President Bashar Assad began. (AP Photo/Local Coordination Committees in Syria)
By Bassem Mroue
Associated Press / February 20, 2012
BEIRUT—A Syria-based activist says three columns of army reinforcements including tanks are heading toward the restive central city of Homs.
Mustafa Osso says the regime appears to be preparing to storm rebel-held neighborhoods in the city before a referendum is held Feb. 26 on a new constitution.
Osso told The Associated Press Monday he does not think the regime will be able to retake Homs through military force as residents plan to fight until “the last person.”
His comments came as the government kept up shelling of the rebel-held Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs. It has been under assault for more than two weeks.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen in Syria staged a guerrilla-style ambush that killed a senior state prosecutor and a judge Sunday in an attack that suggested armed factions are growing bolder and more coordinated in their uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The roadway slayings — reported in an opposition-dominated northern region by the Syrian state news agency — came a day after a deadly hit-and-run attack on a political figure in the heart of the pro-Assad city of Aleppo.
The targeted killings have not reached Assad’s inner circle, but they indicate a growing shift toward violent tactics by the opposition as it brings aboard more military defectors and seeks to tighten control over the small pieces of territory in its hands.
The fears of a looming civil war have neighboring Jordan racing to finish a refugee camp near the Syrian border to handle a possible exodus of people fleeing for safety.
Meanwhile, Egypt became the latest Arab nation to publicly snub Assad by ordering the withdrawal of its ambassador in Damascus.
The Syrian government has offered some concessions, including proposing a referendum next week that could allow more political voices to challenge Assad’s Baath Party. But the opposition demands nothing short of Assad’s resignation. And the regime has not eased off its attacks on the opposition forces, which it describes as “terrorists” carrying out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country.
In Homs in central Syria, government forces sent in reinforcements as they shelled the rebel-held Baba Amr district that has been under near constant barrage for nearly two weeks, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said at least 14 people were killed Sunday across Syria, half of them by government troops.
“I’m worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC on Sunday.
The U.N. last gave a death toll for the conflict in January, saying 5,400 people had been killed in 2011 alone. But hundreds more have been killed since, according to activist groups. An opposition group, Local Coordination Committees, says more than 7,300 have been killed since the uprising began more than 11 months ago.
There is no way to independently verify the numbers, since Syria bans almost all foreign journalists and human rights organizations.
The latest assassinations came on a road in the northwest province of Idlib, which has become a patchwork of areas held either by the government or mutinous soldiers who have safe-haven bases in nearby Turkey.
The state news agency SANA said gunmen opened fire on a car carrying Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and Judge Mohammed Ziadeh, who were killed instantly. The driver also was fatally wounded.
Idlib has witnessed intense clashes between troops loyal to Assad and army defectors who attack and then melt into the rugged mountains. In June, the town of Jisr al-Shugour became the first area to fall into the hands of rebels, who were accused by the government of killing scores of people and setting government buildings on fire. Syrian troops loyal to Assad retook the area shortly afterward.
On Saturday, SANA said gunmen shot to death Jamal al-Bish, a member of the city council of the nearby northern city of Aleppo. The city has been a center of support for Assad since the uprising began.
The back-to-back slayings follow the Feb. 11 killing of a Syrian army general in the first assassination to take place in the capital city of Damascus. Brig. Gen. Issa al-Khouli, a doctor and the chief of a military hospital in the capital, was shot as he left his home. Last month, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent branch in Idlib was shot to death while on his way to Damascus.
In Cairo, Egyptian state news agency MENA said Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr decided to withdraw the country’s ambassador to Syria. The report gave no reason for the decision, but Arab governments have been pulling back diplomatic backing for Assad in protest against his refusal to back regional peace efforts.
Earlier this month, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, led by powerful Saudi Arabia, said it would withdraw its ambassadors and expel Syrian envoys from the oil-rich region. Tunisia also has pulled its ambassador from Damascus.
In Damascus, a funeral was held for a man killed a day earlier when Syrian security forces fired bullets and tear gas at thousands of people marching in a funeral procession that turned into one of the largest protests in the capital.
The Local Coordination Committees said security forces pressured the parents of the victim, Samer al-Khatib, to bury him early so that his funeral would not turn into an anti-government protest.
Activist groups called for a one-day strike in Damascus to express support for other cities in revolt. But there was little response. Residents in the capital told The Associated Press that businesses were open as usual on the first day of the work week. School and universities also were operating.
Calls for strikes in the past did not succeed in tightly controlled Damascus, where government forces and informers keep a close eye on all activities. The capital has been mostly quiet since the uprising began.
By Glen Carey - Feb 19, 2012 10:32 PM GMT+1300
Syrian security forces maintained their crackdown against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule after China urged an end to the violence.
At least 13 people were killed yesterday, following a toll of 31 on Feb. 17, the U.K.-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement today. The Syrian army resumed shelling residential districts of Homs, Al Jazeera reported, citing opposition groups. A fuel storage depot at the refinery in the besieged city was bombed overnight by “an armed terrorist group,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency said.
China’s vice-foreign minister, Zhai Jun, visited Damascus yesterday, where he urged Syria to halt the fighting and restore stability. Zhai, speaking in the capital after a meeting with Assad, backed the Syrian leader’s proposed referendum on a new democratic constitution, set for Feb. 26, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
Syrian forces stepped up their efforts to crush the rebellion after China and Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations Security Council earlier this month calling on Assad to step down in favor of an interim government that would hold elections. The UN estimates more than 5,400 Syrians died last year as Assad cracked down on protests that began in March.
The unrest aims “at partitioning” the country and hurting its position in the Middle East, Assad was cited by SANA as saying during the meeting with Zhai. The government has blamed the violence on “terrorists” and foreign provocateurs.
Syrian forces stormed the city of al-Sokhna in the center of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today in an e-mailed statement. Government forces opened fire yesterday in the Maza neighborhood of Damascus when thousands rallied in the capital for the funerals of civilians killed a day earlier, the group said yesterday. Another nine people were killed by security forces today, Al Jazeera reported.
The U.S., European Union and Arab League, which backed the resolution vetoed by China and Russia, will attend a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunisia this week aimed at coordinating support for the opposition to Assad.
To contact the reporters on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org
BEIRUT — Syria’s state-run news agency reports that gunmen have assassinated a senior prosecutor and a judge in a restive northwestern province.
SANA says gunmen opened fire Sunday morning on a car carrying Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and judge Mohammed Ziadeh. The agency says the two were killed instantly along with their driver.
Syrian rebels control parts of Idlib province, which borders Turkey. It has been one of the regions hardest hit by a government crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The uprising began in March as a peaceful protest but has grown into a bloody insurgency.
The unrest and the resulting crackdown left more than 5,400 people dead last year alone, according to the U.N.