Saturday, August 6, 2011

Syrians take to streets over Hama massacre as outrage grows



Demonstrators gather in cities across the country while Bashar al-Assad's troops continue shelling residential areas

Mark Tran and Paul Owen
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 August 2011

"Tens of thousands of Syrians returned to the streets to denounce President Bashar al-Assad's regime and declare support for the residents of Hama, where an estimated 200 residents have been killed in a government assault since Sunday.

Troops opened fire on crowds of demonstrators after Friday prayers, killing at least 13 people amid mounting international condemnation of the brutal tactics deployed by Assad's forces in the five-month uprising.

In Hama, tanks resumed shelling of residential districts around 4am, as people were beginning their fast for Ramadan, a resident told Associated Press....

As the attack on Hama continued, protests took place throughout the country. At least seven people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen, according to the London-based Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, a group that tracks protests. Another was killed in the suburb of Moaddamiya and two in the central city of Homs. "Hama, we are with you until death," a crowd marching through the central Damascus neighbourhood of Midan shouted. In another district, Qadam, protesters carried a banner reading: "Bashar is slaughtering the people and the international community is silent."

There were also protests in the southern province of Daraa and in Deir al-Zour in the east. Other demonstrations were reported in Qamishli, near the Turkish border.

There has been a near-total communications blackout in Hama but Gaëtan Vannay, a journalist with Swiss Radio, managed to enter Syria secretly and spent 10 days in the beseiged city. He was there on Sunday when Syrian forces began their attack.

"Until then the demonstrations were absolutely peaceful," he told the Guardian. "They were well-organised, the protesters were always writing new songs, coming up with new slogans against the regime. On the Thursday before the attack there were two speakers with different sound systems entertaining the crowds, playing off one another. It was very festive. On Sunday at 4.30am people gave the alarm, shouting 'Allah u akbar (God is great)'. People lit tyre barricades to make it difficulft for the tanks and fought back with sticks, stones and molotov cocktails. The fighting lasted until around 1pm in the afternoon."

Vannay left Hama on Monday, the day tanks shelled the city's two hospitals.

"They had positioned tanks at three or four places in the city, strategic locations," said Vannay, who saw two tank crews leave their vehicles to join the demonstrators."When I left I met quite a few soldiers and policemen in hiding who said they had been told to kill the population or be killed by the security forces," he said. "Sometimes we would be hiding in the same house."

Murhaf Jouejati, professor of Middle East studies at the National Defence University in Washington DC, said: "The more the Assad regime is using violence, the more the protests are growing."

"The regime's violence is increasingly counterproductive and what is remarkable is that there is no protester fatigue.".....

Even Russia has sought to distance itself from the regime. The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said on Thursday he had warned Assad that he will face a "sad fate" if he fails to introduce reforms and open a dialogue with the opposition.

"This is very significant," said Jouejati. "The Assad regime is even losing its international friends. "Russia was the beacon of support for Syria in the UN security council, not willing to condemn for a long time, but even [they] are coming around.""

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