Thousands of Syrians march against Assad, 3 killed
Damascus, August 27, 2011
Syrian forces killed at least three protesters on Saturday as tens of thousands of people marched again to demand the removal of President Bashar al-Assad on a major religious occasion, activists and residents said.
Syria's ally Iran said Assad needed to respond to the 'legitimate demands of the people' after five months of protests and Arab League foreign ministers were expected to call on him to stop military operations against protests, a delegate said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), citing witnesses, said more demonstrations had broken out in Damascus overnight and on Saturday morning than at any time since the pro-democracy uprising erupted in March.
Two of the three were killed as Assad's forces fired live ammunition to disperse demonstrators streaming from mosques in the city of Qusair and Latakia port after al-Qadr prayers.
At the al-Rifai mosque in the upscale Damascus district of Kfar Sousa, where the main secret police headquarters are located, witnesses said hundreds of security police and militiamen loyal to Assad attacked worshippers who tried to demonstrate as al-Qadr prayers finished around dawn.
'Some of the 'amn' (security) went on the roof and began firing from their AK-47s to scare the crowd. Around 10 people were wounded, with two hit by bullets in the neck and chest,' a cleric who lives in the area told Reuters by phone.
SOHR, headed by dissident Rami Abdelrahman, said Syrian forces fired at a funeral turned protest on Saturday in the town of Kfar Roumeh in the northwestern Idlib province bordering Turkey, wounding at least ten.
The organization said another man was killed in raids and house-to-house arrests in the nearby town of Kfar Nubul.
'Besides the killings, another tragedy in Syria is the tens of thousands of people arrested since the beginning of uprising, many of whose whereabouts are unknown,' Abdelrahman told Reuters.
Iran tells Assad must act
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Assad and other leaders needed to respond to their people.
'We believe developments in the region's countries stem from dissatisfaction and discontent of the peoples in those countries,' ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.
'The governments must be responsive to the legitimate demands of the people in these countries, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries,' he said.
A delegate to the Arab League in Cairo said Arab foreign ministers would step up pressure on Assad later on Saturday with a demand he end the crackdown on demonstrators.
'There has been an agreement in talks held between the Arab states on...pressuring the Syrian regime to completely stop the military operations and withdraw its forces,' the delegate said, adding ministers would discuss sending a mission to Damascus.
The United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed since Assad sent in tanks and troops to crush months of street demonstrations calling for an end to his family's 41-year rule.
Syrian authorities have blamed armed 'terrorist groups' for the bloodshed and say 500 police and army have been killed. They have expelled most independent journalists, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.
The United States and EU have urged Assad to step down but their push at the U.N. to impose Security Council sanctions on Syria over its crackdown has met resistance from Russia and China, diplomats said.
Russia has a naval base in Syria and is one of its main arms suppliers. One proposed sanction is an arms embargo while other sanctions would freeze the assets of Assad and his associates.
Assad himself would be excluded from a proposed travel ban on his relatives and associates to allow him an escape route.
The proposed U.N. measures are not as severe as U.S. sanctions in place and a proposed expansion of EU steps against Damascus that would forbid the import of Syrian oil.
The Syrian National Human Rights Organization (SNHRO), headed by opposition figure Ammar Qurabi, said nearly 100 civilians were killed by security forces in the week to Friday 'in another bloody week.'
The uprising has shattered Syria's economy, hitting investment and the tourism industry, forcing businesses to lay off workers.
Any power shakeup in Syria would have major regional repercussions. Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, still has alliances with the country's influential Sunni business class and a loyalist core in the army and security service.
Since Ramadan began on August 1, tanks have entered the cities of Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, Deir al-Zor and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
During a protest overnight in the Damascus suburb of Hajar al-Aswad, home to refugees from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, demonstrators chanted: 'The people want the execution of the president.'
Similar demonstrations were reported in other Damascus suburbs such as Douma and Qadam. Protests were also seen in Homs, hometown of Assad's wife Asma, the ancient desert city of Palmyra, Hama, and the eastern province of Hasakeh.
A YouTube video showed marchers shouting 'Death but not humiliation' in the provincial capital of Idlib. They carried the old Syrian green and white flag of the republic before the Baath Party took power in a 1963 coup, ushering in almost five decades of minority Alawite rule.
On Friday, residents of Deir al-Zor said security forces opened fire to disperse scores of protesters, killing two of them on the spot. Another youth was taken to hospital with serious gunshot wounds and died later, a witness said.
Nine other protesters were killed across the country on Friday, the SNHRO said, including in the southern town of Nawa. State television said two gunmen were killed in Deir al-Zor.-Reuters