Archive for August, 2011


August 31, 2011

Majority of 88 detainees who have died since start of uprising against regime said to have been tortured according to report in Guardian newspaper (Britain) on August 30, 2011.

10 children, have died in detention in Syria since the uprising against the regime began in March 2011 in what amounts to “systematic persecution on a vast scale”, according to Amnesty International.

The majority of victims were tortured or ill-treated, with injuries ranging from beatings, burns and blunt-force traumas to whipping marks, electrocution, slashes and mutilated genitals.

Amnesty documented the names, dates and places of arrest of victims, while independent forensic pathologists have established possible causes of death in some cases by examining film of the bodies.

A 13-year-old boy was among those killed when government forces opened fire in the southern province of Deraa. There were further deaths and injuries in the capital Damascus and the city of Homs, where people poured on to the streets to demand the removal of President Bashar al-Assad in defiance of tanks and troops, witnesses said.

Syrian state television showed Assad attending prayers at a mosque in Damascus. In mounting pressure on the regime, the US expanded sanctions to three “principal defenders of the regime” including presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and foreign minister Walid al-Muallem, both of whom had been part of the pro-reform wing of the regime.

At least 2,200 people have been killed since the start of the uprising, according to the UN, as Syrian forces have sought to crush the rebellion, part of the revolutionary wave sweeping across the Arab world. The crackdown against protesters has intensified during Ramadan.

Amnesty said those who died in custody over the last few months are believed to have been detained because they took part in protests, or were suspected of involvement in them.

The dead included Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy detained at the end of April in Deraa. His death sparked widespread outrage and protests after the corpse was returned to his family bearing evidence of severe torture, including a severed penis.

Video of 45 bodies of detainees, taken by family members or activists after they were returned to relatives or dumped on the roadside, was obtained by Amnesty and passed to forensic pathologists.

The injuries of Sakher Hallak, a 42-year-old doctor and father of two from Aleppo whose body was dumped days after his arrest on May 25, included broken ribs, arms and fingers, mutilated genitals and gouged eyes, Amnesty said.

His brother Hazem, a US-based doctor, told the Guardian Sakher had not been protesting but signed a statement calling on the authorities to end the violence against protesters and allow doctors to treat the injured.

Human rights groups and local doctors say medical staff have been prevented from treating injured protesters.

“We think he was singled out because of this and also because he visited me in the US for three weeks,” Hazem Hallak said. “I think the authorities were very paranoid about his visit.”

A video clip of the body of Tariq Ziad Abd al-Qadr from Homs shows patches of missing hair, marks to the neck and penis possibly caused by electric shocks, whipping marks, stab wounds and burns, Amnesty said. There was evidence of torture or ill-treatment in at least 52 of the 88 cases, according to the report.

The death rate shows a significant escalation from previous rates of death in custody, typically five per year. Deaths involving torture appear to have increased in recent weeks, according to Amnesty’s Syria researcher Neil Sammonds and Damascus-based human rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh.

After a peak in and around Homs – where 40 of the 88 cases came from – new instances are reported on a daily basis.

“These deaths behind bars are reaching massive proportions and appear to [show] the same brutal disdain for life that we are seeing daily on the streets of Syria,” said Sammonds.

“The accounts of torture we have received are horrific. We believe the Syrian government to be systematically persecuting its own people on a vast scale.

“In the context of the widespread and systematic violations taking place in Syria, we believe that these deaths in custody may include crimes against humanity.” Human Rights Watch is also verifying 70 reports of deaths in custody.

“There is no doubt that people have died in detention because of torture and other ill-treatment like lack of proper medical care,” Nadim Houry, a researcher in Beirut, said.

According to one activists’ group, at least 551 Syrian civilians have been killed during Ramadan, which ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr.

A local network of activists said Syrians were keeping Eid celebrations to a minimum this year out of respect for the families of those who had been killed or are in detention. “There will be no happiness while the martyrs’ blood is still warm,” it said in a statement

In protests in Harasta, a suburb of Damascus, protesters shouted: “The people want the downfall of the president.”
In neighbouring Saqba, crowds held shoes in the air as an insult to the president.


August 29, 2011

Amir Taheri wrote in NYP on August 27, 2011, on an important aspect of the Syrian uprisning. It is developing into a power struggle between regional rivals Turkey and Iran.

After hesitating, Turkey appears to have determined that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad can no longer stand. In recent weeks, it has hosted conferences creating an interim Syrian “parliament” to prepare for a democratic transition. The Turks have also expressed support for new European Union sanctions on Syria, including an embargo on oil and gas imports.

Turkey has some leverage: As Syria’s largest investor, with investments of more than $25 billion, it has asked its business interests to hold off on new capital infusions.

Ankara wants Assad to step down in favor of a caretaker reform government, a position backed by several regional powers, notably Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies. The European Union, too, appears to want Turkey to take the lead on Syria.

Iran, however, stands dead set against the scheme. Over the last decade, Syria has become more of a client state than an ally.

Iran has kept Syria’s moribund economy alive with frequent cash injection and investments thought to be worth $20 billion, and also gives Syria “gifts,” including weapons worth $150 million a year. Tehran sources even claim that key members of Assad’s entourage are on the Iranian payroll.

During Bashar’s presidency, the Iranian presence has grown massively. Iran has opened 14 cultural offices across Syria, largely to propagate its brand of Shiite Islam. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard also runs a “coordination office” in Damascus staffed by 400 military experts, and Syria is the only Mediterranean nation to offer the Iranian navy mooring rights.

The two countries have signed a pact committing them to “mutual defense.” Syria and North Korea are the only two countries with which Iran holds annual conferences of chiefs of staff.

Until last June, the Tehran leadership appeared to be of two minds about the Assad regime. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi suggested publicly that the regime might “need to listen to the Syrian people.” The foreign ministry obtained a “temporary halt” in travel to Syria.

But now “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei apparently has decided to throw Iran’s weight behind Assad. “We cannot allow plotters to succeed in Syria,” the daily Kayhan, which expresses Khamenei’s views, said in an editorial this week. “Those targeting Syria are, in fact, targeting the Islamic Revolution in Iran.” The paper also warned: “Turkey must know that the Islamic Republic will use all means at its disposal to ensure the failure of plots against Syria.”

The implicit threat is that Tehran would reactivate terrorist groups fighting Turkey. In fact, Tehran has already lifted a ban on movements by armed elements of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which fights for an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey and operates the mountainous area at the intersection of the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

Iran is trying hard to mobilize regional support for Assad, but its only ally on this is the Hezbollah-backed Lebanese government.

Iranian pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has so far failed to persuade Baghdad to back Assad — and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has demanded that Assad leave office.

Several Arab countries are sitting on the fence because they believe that, without solid US support, the Turkish transition strategy lacks credibility.

Jordan would dearly like to see the back of Assad, whose father tried to assassinate King Hussein, the father of current King Abdullah. Iraq, too, having gotten rid of Ba’athist Saddam Hussein, would love to see Syria’s Ba’athist regime toppled. But both countries worry that prolonged turmoil in Syria could produce a flood of refugees that they couldn’t handle without support from major powers, especially America.

Egypt, emerging from its own despotic nightmare, would also welcome Assad’s fall. But it, too, worries about confusing signals from Washington.

The Arab Spring has provided a chance to reshape the Mideast. The question is who will benefit — and how.


August 29, 2011

On August 29, 2011, John O’Sullivan, executive editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, published on how he during the 1980s was asked (unprepared) to speak about what an Arab perestroika would look like.

In 2011,however, history answered it for him: the Arabs’ share of perestroika, it turns out, is that Arabs should enjoy the same degree of freedom and democracy that Czechs, Russians, Kazakhs, and other Soviet subject peoples had seemingly won in 1989 and 1991.

Egyptians, Tunisians, Syrians, and Libyans have now proved that they too value liberty and that they are prepared to make terrible sacrifices for themselves and their fellow-countrymen.

That does not establish that liberal democracy can thrive in the Middle East, but it settles the question of whether Arab societies want it. They do. They are even prepared to die for it.

The international community has taken the same curious position as my audience during the 1980s. Those who wanted to demonstrate friendship for Arab aspirations focused all but entirely on the Israel-Palestine dispute.

The idea that Arab peoples more widely might want to enjoy the everyday liberties that Westerners take for granted was largely discounted. And when that idea was embraced by the George W. Bush administration, it came to be seen as a toxic neoconservative delusion that was anyway discredited by the course of the Iraq war.

Yet, as we now know, the aspirations of 1989 and 1991 (if not always precisely the same political ideas) were quietly germinating in the minds of young people in Cairo, Tunis, Damascus, and Tripoli.

Those who had been well-educated or who held responsible positions at work resented being treated as the helpless children of a dictator, paternal or oppressive, in the public square.

New media technologies undermined the monopoly control of information once exercised by the state; anyone with a laptop could read newspapers from London to Sydney.

Ideas circulated more freely. Some of those ideas — such as radical Islamism — had an ambivalent attitude (at best) to freedom and democracy.

Like all ideologies, however, Islamism provoked intellectual resistance as well as agreement.

Specialists and regional experts were equally dismissive of the prospects for uprisings in the Arab world until they happened.

This often took the form of liberal ideas. And this subterranean but jostling market of different political concepts was united on one thing: opposition to the dictatorship.

Younger Arabs might not have put it in such terms, but twenty years later they wanted their share of perestroika. It arrived in the form of the Arab awakening.

Do the young people in Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and other post-Soviet authoritarian states want their share of the Arab awakening today?

The specialists and the regional experts tend to dismiss such a question as naive or at best premature. They point out awkward stumbling blocks such as the fact that there are no significant opposition movements in these societies, that their governments have religion under tougher control, and that Russia and China, as the dominant powers in the region, would never permit a successful democratic polity. Almost certainly they are right.

But the specialists and the regional experts were equally dismissive of the prospects for uprisings in the Arab world until they happened.

And even when they happened, they did so in the Arab countries considered by the experts to be the least vulnerable to such upheavals.

How many experts predicted a revolution in stable and moderately progressive Tunisia? Or believed that ordinary Syrians would willingly give their lives for liberty day after day after day?

Experts almost by definition know and understand the status quo. They can describe the institutions of power, their tribal roots, their methods of control, their ability to conscript or neuter opposition, in minute detail.

Almost without realizing it they begin to assume that such institutions are unassailable. And they are right until — suddenly and surprisingly — they are wrong.

The history of the last two centuries, as the Canadian writer Mark Steyn repeatedly reminds us, is the story of how vast, dominant, and well-rooted powers have crumbled and dissolved almost overnight from the Czarist autocracy to the Soviet Empire.

There is a reason why the experts are confounded by revolutions and the fall of empires every twenty years or so. The one variable they cannot measure is the change in the mentality of the subjects of the power.

It occurs below the radar screen of the experts. It occurs slowly and all but imperceptibly. Warning signs of it are usually obscured — oh happy irony! — by the repressive apparatus of the dictator. And the fact that it has happened is only clear at the moment when a subject rises up, openly resists the oppressive power as a citizen, and is joined to their mutual surprise by thousands of other citizens.

The spark that lights the conflagration can be a very minor everyday event — the police beating up a suspect, for instance — but it changes everything.

That said, let me return to my question: do the young people of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Belarus, and other post-Soviet authoritarian states want their share of the Arab awakening?

Do they think that it has lessons for them? Do they believe that something similar is possible in their societies and in their lives?

Have they a sense that they and their friends are still in the grip of a despairing acceptance that they are governed by an unaccountable power?

Or do they feel that they will overcome that despairing acceptance and win the liberty which the Libyans have gained this week and for which the Syrians are still fighting?


August 28, 2011

NYT on August 27, 2011, reported that an American drone killed Al Qaeda’s second-ranking figure in the Mountains of Pakistan earlier in August. It further damaged the terrorism network in the country that seems to have been significantly weakened since the death of Osama Bin Laden in May this year.

An American official said that the drone strike killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who in the last year had taken over as Al Qaeda’s top operational planner. Rahman was in frequent contact with Bin Laden in the months before the terrorist leader was killed on May 2 by a Navy Seals team, intelligence officials have said.

American officials described Mr. Rahman’s death as particularly significant as compared with other high-ranking Qaeda operatives who have been killed, because he was one of a new generation of leaders that the network hoped would assume greater control after Bin Laden’s death.

Thousands of electronic files recovered at Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, revealed that Bin Laden communicated frequently with Rahman. They also showed that Bin Laden relied on Rahman to get messages to other Qaeda leaders and to ensure that Bin Laden’s recorded communications were broadcast widely.

After Bin Laden was killed, Mr. Rahman became Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader under Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Bin Laden.

There were few details about the strike that killed Rahman. In the months since Bin Laden’s death, the C.I.A. has maintained a barrage of drone missile strikes on mountainous redoubts in Pakistan.

Over the past year the United States has expanded the drone war to Yemen and Somalia.

Some top American officials have said publicly that they believe Al Qaeda is in its death throes.

Yet even as Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen and North Africa continue to plot attacks against the West, most intelligence analysts believe that the remnants of Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan have been weakened considerably. Rahman’s death is another significant blow to the group.

“Atiyah was at the top of Al Qaeda’s trusted core,” the American official said. “His combination of background, experience and abilities are unique in Al Qaeda — without question, they will not be easily replaced.”

The files captured in Abbottabad revealed, among other things, that Bin Laden and Rahman discussed brokering a deal with Pakistan: Al Qaeda would refrain from mounting attacks in the country in exchange for protection for Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan.

American officials said that they found no evidence that either of the men ever raised the idea directly with Pakistani officials, or that Pakistan’s government had any knowledge that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad.

Rahman also served as Bin Laden’s liaison to Qaeda affiliates. Last year, American officials said, Rahman notified Bin Laden of a request by the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to install Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric, as the leader of the group in Yemen.

That group, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, apparently thought Awlaki’s status as an Internet celebrity, for his popular video sermons, and his knowledge of the United States might help the group’s fund-raising efforts. But according to the electronic files in Abbottabad, Bin Laden told Rahman that the group’s leadership should remain unchanged.

After Bin Laden’s death, some intelligence officials saw a cadre of Libyan operatives as poised to assume greater control inside Al Qaeda, which at times has been fractured by cultural rivalries.

Libyan operatives like Rahman, they said, had long bristled at the leadership of an older generation, many of them Egyptian like Zawahri and Sheikh Saeed al-Masri.

Masri was killed last year by an American missile, as were several Qaeda operations chiefs before him. The job has proved to be particularly deadly, American officials said, because the operations chief has had to transmit the guidance of Bin Laden and Zawahri to Qaeda operatives elsewhere, providing a way for the Americans to track him through electronic intercepts.

Rahman assumed the role after Masri’s death. Now that Rahman has died, American officials said it was unclear who would take over the job.


August 27, 2011

BNO News reported on August 26, 2011, from Tallinn (Estonia) that the bodies of ten men had been found in a mass grave in southern Estonia. Officials believe they were members of the anti-Soviet resistance group known as the ‘forest brothers’.

Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) reported that the mass grave was found along a road near Voru, a town and municipality in southeastern Estonia. All the victims died of gunshot wounds or blunt-force trauma, according to a preliminary investigation.

Officials believe the mass grave dates back to the post-World War II period and that the victims were part of the Forest Brothers, who waged a guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

ERR reported that the forest in which they were found was one of the last big resistance battles in 1953, and the Soviet secret police organization NKVD had ordered to bury resistance fighters in secret graves. “These factors make it a relatively high certainty that this is a secret burial ground in the forest,” military historian Arnold Unt told news organizations.


August 14, 2011

Syrian warships have joined a military assault targeting the port of Latakia. At least 19 people have been killed in the operation, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

One witness reported to Reuters news agency by telephone: “I can see the silhouettes of two grey [naval] vessels. They are firing their guns and the impact is landing on al-Ramleh, al-Filistini and al-Shaab neighbourhoods, on August 14, 2011.

Latakia was one of the cities to be caught up in the revolt soon after it erupted in mid-March. Despite repeated attempts by the regime to stifle defiance, it keeps breaking out.

It is a sensitive city. Its population is 600,000 or so, and it has a Sunni Muslim majority, as does the country, but there are also areas dominated by President Assad’s minority Alawite community.

The current punishment is being meted out to mainly Sunni areas, a fact that could further aggravate sectarian tensions already sensitised by the situation.

Activists said at least two people were killed and 15 wounded in Saturday’s attacks.

They said a large number of residents had fled the city and that telephones and internet connections had been cut off.

International journalists face severe restrictions in operating in Syria, and it is hard to verify reports.

Thousands of people were said to have come on to the streets of Latakia to demonstrate against the government.

Amateur video footage posted on the Internet also showed what appeared to be armoured personnel in the streets.

Latakia has seen many anti-government protests in the past six months.

Tens of thousands of people had come out on to the streets across the country again on Friday to protest.

The Syrian Observatory said that a large number of troops had also moved into the Saqba and Hamriya districts of the capital Damascus on Sunday, with gunfire heard in both suburbs.

Syria has come under increased diplomatic pressure in the past week to stop its crackdown on dissent.

The US has imposed sanctions on Damascus and has said these could be increased, while calling on other countries to follow.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have all recalled their ambassadors, while Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has described the methods used by the Syrian security forces as “unacceptable”.

However, it appears the crackdown has intensified, with troops storming several towns and cities.

Assad has reiterated promises of political reform, while remaining adamant his government would continue to pursue the “terrorist groups” he has blamed for the unrest.

Protests have been targeted in Homs, Hama, Damascus, Deir al-Zour in the east and Aleppo and Idlib near Turkey’s border.

A doctor in Hama told the BBC that medical services there had been severely affected by recent government attacks. He said two hospitals were closed and one had been stormed by troops, injuring many of the medical staff.


August 13, 2011

AP on August 12, 2011 reported that tens of thousands of Syrian protesters shouted for President Bashar Assad’s death in a dramatic escalation of their rage and frustration, defying bullets and rooftop snipers after more than a week of intensified military assault Syrias on rebellious cities, activists and witnesses said.

Security forces killed at least 14 protesters, according to human rights groups.

The calls for Assad’s execution were a stark sign of how much the protest movement has changed since it erupted in March seeking minor reforms but making no calls for regime change. The protests grew dramatically over the five months that followed, driven in part by anger over the government’s bloody crackdown in which rights groups say at least 1,700 civilians have been killed.

But with the regime shrugging off even the most blistering condemnation, the uprising has become a test of endurance as both sides draw on a deep well of energy and conviction. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday urged countries to stop buying Syrian oil and gas or selling the regime weapons, saying those who still do so must “get on the right side of history.”

In cities around Syria, protesters chanted, “The people want to execute the president!” during the now-familiar cycle of weekly demonstrations followed by a swift crackdown by the military, security forces and pro-government gunmen who operate on the regime’s behalf.

Security forces broke up protests quickly around the capital Damascus, in the central city of Homs and elsewhere, firing bullets and tear gas. Some areas saw only limited demonstrations because soldiers deployed heavily in restive areas.

In a significant show of defiance, some of the largest protests Friday were on the outskirts of the central city of Hama and in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, where government forces seized control in major military offensives during the past week. The fact that protesters still turned out was a signal that Assad’s forces cannot terrify protesters into staying home.

However, within Hama, protesters struggled to turn out in great numbers after soldiers clamped down heavily in the streets, witnesses said. Snipers were stationed on rooftops, and troops surrounded mosques and set up checkpoints to head off any marches.

“There are security checkpoints every 200 meters (655 feet), they have lists and they’re searching people … the mosques are surrounded by soldiers,” a Hama-based activist told The Associated Press by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Dozens of soldiers deployed in Hama’s Assi Square, which had been the main converging point for hundreds of thousands of protesters in previous weeks, the activist said.

In the central city of Homs, more than a 1,000 soldiers, security agents and plainclothes policemen were deployed in the city’s main square.

At least 14 protesters were killed across the country: Five outside the capital, Damascus; one in Homs and two in Hama; Four in the major northern city Aleppo; one in Deir el-Zour; and one in eastern Idlib province, according to multiple activist groups. Military raids earlier in the day killed at least two people.

“Where are the prisoners, Bashar? Free the prisoners, Bashar!” shouted protesters in the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, shown in amateur video posted by activists. Another video showed a crowd outside a mosque in the southern city of Daraa hit by clouds of tear gas after they chanted for the downfall of the regime.

The Associated Press could not verify the videos. Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to get independent confirmation of the events on the ground.

The military offensive reflects Assad’s determination to crush the uprising against his rule despite mounting international condemnation, including U.S. and European sanctions.

A flurry of foreign diplomats have rolled through Damascus urging Assad to end a campaign of killing that rights groups say has killed more than 1,700 civilians and several hundred members of the security forces since mid-March.

“We believe that President Assad’s opportunity to lead the transition has passed,” Jay Carney, spokesman for President Barak Obama, told reporters traveling on Air Force One on Thursday.

But the U.S. and other nations have little power to threaten further isolation or economic punishment of Assad’s pro-Iranian regime — unlike in Egypt, where Obama was able to help usher longtime ally Hosni Mubarak out of power.

On Friday, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said the European Union may decide in the next week or two to broaden its sanctions against the Syrian regime and state-run businesses.

Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal has been lobbying his colleagues to expand the EU travel ban on Syrian officials — which now covers 35 people, including Assad — and to target Syria’s telecommunications, banking and energy sectors. Syria gets about 28 percent of its revenue from the oil trade.

“We need to cut off the oxygen from the regime through its profitable public enterprises,” Rosenthal said on the ministry’s Web site.

But the bloody crackdown has continued, along with a nationwide campaign of arrests.

Security forces on Thursday detained Abdul-Karim Rihawi, the Damascus-based head of the Syrian Human Rights League, activists said. A longtime rights activist, Rihawi had been tracking government violations and documenting deaths in Syria.

He was picked up from a cafe in central Damascus along with a journalist who had been interviewing him, according to rights activist Ammar Qurabi.

Italy and France on Friday condemned the arrest and called for his immediate release.

“By its brutal and symbolic character, the arrest of Abdul-Karim Rihawi constitutes a new unacceptable decision by the authorities of Damascus,” a French Foreign Ministry statement said.

The Syrian uprising was inspired by the revolts and calls for reform sweeping the Arab world, and activists and rights groups say most of those killed have been unarmed civilians. An aggressive new military offensive that began with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the start of August has killed several hundred people in just one week.


August 11, 2011

Rebels say on August 11, 2011, that the Syrian army stormed a northwestern town near Turkey’s border on , and shot dead on that day at least five people in a western town near the Lebanese border, activists said to AP in Lebanon.

The shooting in the town of Qusair also wounded 16 other people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Damascus-based Abdul-Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian Human Rights League, said seven people were killed.

Anti-government protests are common in Qusair and, combined with the early morning assault on the town of Saraqeb near the Turkish border, reflected the determination of President Bashar Assad to crush the five-month old uprising despite mounting international condemnation.

The attack on Saraqeb is particularly noteworthy because it sits in Idlib, a province bordering Turkey. Intense protests in the area triggered a harsh government response, forcing hundreds of Syrians to flee across the border. The military on Wednesday said it withdrew from residential districts in the area and returned to its barracks.

Troops detained at least 100 people in Saraqeb, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Explosions and gunfire reverberated through the area after the army rolled in, said the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group that helps organize and document the protests.

The military action came a day after the information ministry ferried local journalists to Idlib. A senior army officer told reporters that troops were withdrawing to their barracks, leaving residential districts in the province’s cities.

On the same day, Syrian security forces shot dead at least 15 people in the central flashpoint city of Homs, according to the LCC.

The Obama administration, which announced new sanctions Wednesday, is preparing for the first time to explicitly call for Assad to step down, officials have told the AP. The moves are a direct response to Assad’s decision to escalate the crackdown by sending the army into opposition hotbeds.

The new sanctions affect the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria and its Lebanon-based subsidiary, the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, for what the U.S. says are their links to human rights abuses and to illegal weapons trade with North Korea.


August 10, 2011

Syria stepped up its crackdownon August 10, 2011, as Washington readied new sanctions.

The early-morning fresh assaults targeted at least two restive cities and several towns and villages, including in Idlib province bordering Turkey, rights and activist groups said.

The attacks came a day after the August 10 armored military assaults that killed more than 50 people in the some of the same areas, the groups said.

“The situation is desperate,” a Syrian activist in touch with people in Deir al-Zor, a tribal city on the Euphrates River 280 miles northeast of Damascus, told Britain’s The Daily Telegraph.

“People are burying their dead in gardens and in small parks because it is too dangerous to go to cemeteries,” the activist said. “Snipers are everywhere.”

The city came under fresh artillery and automatic gunfire as tanks and troops cleared the city and suburbs of presumed opposition members. At least 17 people were killed Tuesday and an undetermined number were killed Wednesday, the crackdown’s fourth day of operations in the city, opposition groups said.

The Security Council was to debate the possibility of increasing the severity of its response to the Syrian violence Wednesday after Assad ignored the council’s Aug. 3 demand to end attacks against protesters.

The Obama administration was expected to follow the U.N. meeting as early as August 11 with a call for Assad to give up power, CNN reported. The United States would also impose tough new sanctions on families, businesses and government officials linked to the Assad regime, the network said.

President Barack Obama said July 12 Assad had “lost legitimacy” as a leader but stopped short of demanding he step down.

The White House said at the time Obama might later call on Assad to step down, as he did with Gadhafi.


August 9, 2011

Syrian security forces have continued operations to crush protesters, even as the Turkish foreign minister on August 9, 2011, pressed President Bashar al-Assad to stop them.

Ahmet Davutoglu was told to deliver the message Ankara had run out of patience with the “savagery” of the crackdown.

Their meeting came as activists said nine people had been killed as troops stormed villages in and around Hama.

Four died in the governorate of Idlib, bordering Turkey, and three others in Deir al-Zour, they added.

Human rights activists say at least 1,700 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands arrested since the uprising began in mid-March.

Amid increasing international condemnation of the government, President Assad held talks with the Turkish foreign minister on Tuesday.

Mr Davutoglu, who has helped improve ties between Ankara and Damascus, had been told to pass on a “tough” message demanding an end to the military operations against civilian demonstrators, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

This time it will be different. Mr Davutoglu will say Turkey is on the verge of joining other Western countries in condemning Syria, possibly backing additional action at the UN Security Council.

Over the weekend, Mr Erdogan said not only that he had “run out of patience”, but also that from Turkey’s point of view the Syrian crisis was almost an internal problem – their shared border is over 800km (500 miles) long, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul.

Since Saturday, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors and demanded an immediate end to the use of military force against civilians.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said the violence was “unacceptable”, and Syria had to choose between “wisdom” and being “pulled down into the depths of chaos and loss”.

The Arab League and Gulf Co-operation Council have also issued statements condemning the crackdown and calling for serious dialogue.

Efforts to persuade Syria’s government to halt the crackdown have had little effect in the past week, during which more than 300 civilians are believed to have been killed, including at least 14 on Monday.

On Tuesday, at least seven people were killed when troops backed by tanks and armoured vehicles overran towns and villages outside the restive central city of Hama, including Soran, Halfaya and Taybat al-Imam, where snipers have been deployed on the roofs of the tallest buildings.

Two sisters aged six and 11 were reportedly among the five dead brought to a hospital in Taybat al-Imam, while the Syrian National Organisation for Human Rights told Reuters news agency that at least 26 people had died.

Two people were also killed in the centre of Hama, activists said.

At least three others were killed and several wounded in the town of Binnish, in Idlib governorate, about 30km (19 miles) from the border with Turkey, in a similar attack. Tanks were also reported in the Sarmin area of Idlib.
Asked why Binnish was stormed, a resident who had fled told Reuters: “The whole town has been joining in night rallies after Ramadan prayers.”

The army also continued its operation to crush dissent in Deir al-Zour, where more than 60 civilians are said to have been killed since August 8.