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Tanks enter town as Syria protests swell

 
 
 
 
 
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Army presses ahead in its campaign to overcome anti-regime revolt, prepares to intervene in Al-Bukamal.

The Syrian army on Sunday set its sights on the town of Zabadani near the Lebanon border as it pressed ahead in its campaign to overcome an anti-regime revolt, a human rights activist said.

In the east, on the frontier with Iraq, security forces were also reported to be preparing to intervene in Al-Bukamal after one man was reported killed there on Saturday.

“Security forces today penetrated Zabadani,” 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of Damascus, said Abdel Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights. “They searched houses and arrested more than 50 people.”

Zabadani has seen several protests since demonstrations against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad erupted in mid-March.

Rihawi said soldiers also entered the central city of Homs, 160 kilometres north of the capital.

“Four tanks and a troop transport took up position in Dawar al-Khalidya” in the city, he said. “Residents organised a huge demonstration to protest against their presence.”

On Saturday, Homs was the scene of clashes between regime supporters and the opposition.

Official media on Sunday reported an “explosive” situation in the eastern border town of Al-Bukamal.

“The situation in Al-Bukamal is explosive, so the army is preparing to intervene,” said the pro-government daily Al-Watan.

“The authorities fear an armed revolt in this border town where (insurgents) can easily find logistical and political support.”

One civilian was killed in the area on Saturday when security forces opened fire to break up an anti-regime demonstration, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

However, the official SANA news agency spoke of “armed terrorist gangs who stormed a government building and seized the weapons stored there,” adding that three security personnel were killed and two kidnapped in the attack.

Since the anti-regime protests began, Damascus has consistently blamed the violence on foreign interference and “armed groups” seeking to “sow chaos.”

Activists say the protesters are peaceful and that the fierce government crackdown has left more than 1,400 civilians dead and thousands of others behind bars.

Al-Watan said the “situation was back to normal” in the central city of Hama, the epicentre of anti-government protests earlier this month.

“The efforts the new governor of Hama has made with civic leaders have borne fruit. The state of civil disobedience which lasted 13 days is over,” according to Al-Watan.

“With the help of residents, officials have started to remove the roadblocks erected on major thoroughfares.”

Hama residents had raised barricades to prevent a military operation against the city, where memories of a 1982 crackdown against Islamists that left 20,000 people dead remain fresh.

Activists say security forces have killed least 25 civilians in the flashpoint city since July 5, when Damascus sent in tanks in response to an anti-regime demonstration that drew half a million people.

Meanwhile, security forces on Sunday rearrested Ali Abdullah, a key opposition figure who had been freed under a general amnesty in May, the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights said.

Abdullah was picked up during a “vast campaign of arrests” focused on Qatana, a town just west of Damascus.

One of the 12 signatories of the 2005 “Damascus Declaration” which called for Syria to move towards democracy, Abdullah had been released under a general amnesty Assad declared in May.

The 61-year-old author, who had served a sentence of two and a half years from December 2007 for “undermining the image of the state” and “spreading false news,” had originally been set to be released in June 2010.

But he remained in custody to face a new trial over comments he had made while in prison on Syrian-Lebanese relations, and on alleged electoral fraud in Iran’s 2009 election.

Meanwhile, Damascus was set later on Sunday for a music festival marking the 11th anniversary of Assad taking the oath of office as president.

He succeeded his father, Hafez, who died on June 10, 2000, after ruling the country with an iron grip for three decades.

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