Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Syrian town empties as government tanks mass outside

All-out assault on residents of Jisr al-Shughour feared after uprising against security forces

Martin Chulov in Beirut and Nidaa Hassan (pen name) in Damascus, Tuesday 7 June 2011

"The Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour was besieged by columns of government tanks on Tuesday night as the army massed for what is feared will be an all-out assault on residents it claims killed more than 120 security force members over the weekend.

By nightfall most inhabitants had fled to nearby Turkey before the expected sharp escalation in a three-month uprising that has pitched largely unarmed demonstrators against a regime using increasingly lethal force to suppress the gravest threat to its four-decade rule.

Jisr al-Shughour, a town of 41,000 people, was largely abandoned. The hospital stood empty and the intelligence headquarters, which had been the scene of an uprising on Sunday, was now a looted and empty shell, according to three men who had stayed behind.

Human rights activists in Damascus said 59 civilians had been confirmed killed. However they feared the final number was likely to be more than 100.

The prospect of the imminent operation has stirred the ghosts of an infamous assault on the town of Hama 29 years ago, in which tens of thousands of residents were killed by the former president Hafez al-Assad after they launched a failed challenge to his authority.

Assad's son, President Bashar al-Assad, is now facing a more serious threat, with sustained protests in many Syrian towns and cities that are steadily eroding the iron-clad rule of the Assad dynasty....."

(Click on map to enlarge)

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