Tanks shell Syria’s Hama for second day, 4 killed



Army defectors stand atop a tank as residents gather in Hama in this still image taken from video July 31, 2011. Photo: Reuters
Syrian tanks shelled the city of Hama, the scene of a 1982 massacre, for a second day on Monday, killing at least four civilians, residents said, in an assault to try to crush protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
The killings in the city’s residential Hamidiyah district brought to 84 the number of civilians reported killed in a tank-backed crackdown on the central Syrian city, where Assad’s father crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood revolt 29 years ago by razing neighbourhoods and killing many thousands of people.

“No one can leave the town because the troops and shabbiha (pro-Assad militia) are shooting at random with machineguns,” a resident, who gave his name as Raed, told Reuters by telephone.

Residents said among those killed on Monday was Khaled Adel al-Sheikh Mossa, whose house was hit in early morning shelling. A roof of another house collapsed and a pharmacy was destroyed. A doctor said a youth died after being shot in the chest.

Syrian tanks also stormed the eastern town of Albu Kamal after a two-week siege, activists in the region said, as the military steps up assaults aimed at subduing dissent in the tribal Deir al-Zor province bordering Iraq’s Sunni heartland.


They added that one man, Ibrahim al-Mashadani, was killed as tanks occupied the centre. Residents said tanks surrounded Albu Kamal on July 17 after thousands of people, emboldened by army defections in the town, staged anti-Assad protests.

The latest violence cast a pall over the start of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast in daylight hours.

Residents said at least 29 civilians had been killed in a weekend tank assault on Deir al-Zor, the provincial capital.

“The shelling is concentrating on northern quarters. The tanks are pushing toward the centre,” a witness told Reuters.

Syrian authorities have expelled most foreign journalists since the anti-Assad protests began in March, making it hard to verify activists’ reports or official statements.

More EU sanctions

The European Union extended sanctions against Assad’s government, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on five more people associated with a bloody crackdown on dissent.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned there could be more sanctions unless the Syrian leadership changed course.

She welcomed a planned emergency U.N. Security Council session on Syria later on Monday, saying it was time the world body took “a clear stand on the need to end the violence”.

Formal approval of new sanctions, drawn up last week, came after the 27-nation bloc accused Syria of an indiscriminate “massacre” of civilians in the town of Hama at the weekend.

Reed Brody, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, criticised countries including Russia, China, South Africa, India and Brazil for blocking United Nations sanctions.

“These countries have blood on their hands,” he said, adding that the Syrian people were paying the price for what was perceived as an “endless” foreign intervention in Libya.

Britain ruled out any such military involvement in Syria.

Russia and China have previously opposed any condemnation of Syria in the council, where they hold veto powers. But Moscow signalled a change of tone on Monday.

“Moscow is seriously concerned by information about numerous casualties,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “The use of force against civilians and representatives of state structures is unacceptable and must cease.”

Most Arab countries have remained silent on Syria.

Turkey, one of Assad’s main allies until the revolt, said it was shocked by the use of tanks to quell civilian protests.

“The recent developments in Syria have deepened our already existing concerns. The footage from yesterday’s events has horrified us,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in remarks reported by state-run Anatolian news agency. “The use of heavy weapons in Hama against civilians has given me a deep shock.”

Security forces, dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, had besieged Hama, a mainly Sunni Muslim city of 700,000, for nearly a month before Sunday’s assault.

Sectarian strife

In a letter to the military, Assad spoke of a foreign plot  to sow sectarian strife and “tear Syria into small statelets that compete to satisfy those who worked to slice them up”.

The 1982 Hama massacre instilled such fear that few Syrians were ready to challenge Assad family rule openly until this year, when many were inspired by the largely peaceful popular uprisings that toppled Arab autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia.

The Muslim Brotherhood accused the Alawite elite of waging sectarian warfare on Sunnis by attacking Hama.

“Syria is witnessing a war of sectarian cleansing. The regime has linked its open annihilation with the crescent of Ramadan. It is a war on the identity and beliefs of the Syrian nation … on Arab Muslim Syria,” it said in a statement.

The Syrian leadership blames “armed terrorist groups” for most killings during the revolt, saying that more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have been killed.

The Syrian state news agency said the military entered Hama to purge armed groups that were terrorising citizens, an account dismissed as “nonsense” by a U.S. diplomat in Damascus.

The agency said eight police were killed while “confronting armed terrorist groups” in Hama.

Footage posted on social media showed large parts of the city covered in smoke, and panic-stricken groups around dead or wounded people in the streets as gunfire rang out. Reuters could not independently verify the content of the videos.

Other footage purporting to be from the city of Homs showed crowds chanting: “Hama, we are with you until death, Deir al-Zor, we are with you until death.”

US President Barack Obama said he was appalled by the Syrian government’s “horrifying” violence against its people in Hama and promised to work with others to isolate Assad.

Syrian human rights group Sawasiah put Sunday’s civilian death toll in Hama at 80. Some reports gave higher figures.

Related Articles

Bolivia. Una opción civilizatoria con rostro indígena


Acceder al gobierno nacional: un paso de esperanza El gobierno que emergió en Bolivia en diciembre de 2005 y asumió

PNV, PSE y PP protegen a Aldekoa y EH Bildu lo tilda de «obscenidad»


Los parlamentarios de PNV, PSE y PP sumaron ayer sus votos en la Comisión de Instituciones, Seguridad y Justicia para

Scottish independence: Breaking up is good to do


John McAllion makes the socialist case for an independent Scotland Illustration: Hey Monkey Riot (Edd Baldry) Between now and the

No comments

Write a comment
No Comments Yet! You can be first to comment this post!

Write a Comment