Syria Calls for Arab League Meeting to Discuss Political Solution to Unrest

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria is calling for an emergency meeting of the Arab League’s heads of state to discuss the continuing unrest throughout the country.  The request comes a day after the regional organization threatened to suspend its membership if Syria did not stop its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

Syrian protesters continue to rally despite the harsh government crackdown (Photo courtesy of the United Nations News Centre).

The Arab League gave Syria three days to end its crackdown or face sanctions.  The action, which is the Arab League’s strongest against Syria since the violence began in mid-March, does not amount to a full suspension of Syria’s membership from the organization.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently classified the systematic nature of abuses by Syrian government forces as an indication of crimes against humanity.  It urged the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo and sanctions, as well as referring Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The report released by HRW focused on abuses in the Syrian city of Homs and its surrounding areas. Homs has become the focal point for insurgencies against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in the period between mid-April to August security forces killed approximately 587 civilians.  Since 2 November at least another 104 people have been killed.

“Homs is a microcosm of the Syrian government’s brutality,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at HRW.

Security forces have conducted large-scale military operations in the area surrounding Homs.  These operations involve the usage of heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns to fire into neighborhoods with the intention of frightening people.  The security forces have also cut off communications, and restricted the movements of people, food, and medicine by establishing checkpoints.

Throughout Syria, people have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and systematic torture in detention.  Most are released after several weeks in detention, but many are still missing.  The detainees are mainly composed of young men in their 20s and 30s, but witnesses report that people in their 60s and 70s have also been detained.

Allegations of torture of detainees are rampant throughout Syria.  Former detainees report the use of heated metal rods to burn various parts of their body, the use of electric shocks, the use of stress positions for hours or even days, and the use of improvised devices such as car tires to force detainees into positions that make it easier to torture specific sensitive body parts.

There are a large number of reported deaths occurring in custody.  HRW was able to confirm around 17 such deaths independently, and in many of the cases it reviewed video or photos of the bodies that revealed signs of torture.

The Syrian government has repeatedly argued that armed terrorist gangs funded from outside countries are carrying out the violence.

The United Nations human rights office reports that the death toll in Syria has surpassed 3,500.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syria calls for Arab League meeting — 14 Nov. 2011

CNN — Report says Syrian crackdown amounts to crimes against humanity — 11 Nov. 2011

Human Rights Watch — Syria: Crimes Against Humanity in Homs — 11 Nov. 2011

United Nations — Death toll passes 3,500 as Syrian crackdown continues, says UN human rights office — 08 Nov. 2011

Security Forces Kill Fifteen After Agreement to Halt Protester Violence

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On Friday, 4 November, Syrian security forces killed at least fifteen people after Friday prayers.  To prevent demonstrations, the security forces surrounded mosques and used gunfire throughout Syria.  The demonstrators gathered to challenge the promise the government made to the Arab League on Wednesday to halt intense confrontations with demonstrators.

Protest in Homs on Friday. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Syrian-based human rights lawyer Mustafa Osso commented, “This regime is not serious about ending its brutal crackdown. . . .  Today was a real test for the intentions of the regime and the answer is clear to everyone who wants to see.”

At Abu Bakr mosque in Baniays, security forces assaulted people as they exited the mosque and trapped hundreds inside to block protests.  The Local Coordinating Committees (“LCC”), a body that assists in organizing protests, reported government snipers observed demonstrations in Hasakeh and Hama from commercial markets and mosques.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented forces using gunfire in Deir Ezzor and explosives in a Daraa neighborhood.  Forces also showed a presence near the Fattahi mosque in Lattakia.  In Bab Amro, forces prevented ambulances from accessing the area where launch and shell attacks continued.  In Homs, medics report over 100 bodies arrived in the past 48 hours after tanks shelled parts of the city.

Meanwhile, SANA, Syria’s official news agency, noted engineers dismantled two two-remote controlled bombs in Deir Ezzor.  Thirteen soldiers and police also died in Hama, Homs, and Idlib fighting armed terrorist groups.

Syria’s Interior Minister announced on Friday a one-week amnesty period for “citizens who carried weapons, sold them, delivered them, transported them or funded buying them, and did not commit crimes.”  Citizens who handed themselves into the nearest police station would be freed immediately as a part of the general amnesty.

Journalists face difficulty confirming the violence on the ground because the government has limited foreign journalist activity and independent reporting.  They must rely on witness accounts, amateur videos posted online, and information gathered by activist groups.

On Wednesday, the Arab League announced at an emergency meeting that Syria agreed to release political prisoners, remove tanks and armored vehicles from the cities, and cease violence towards protesters.  Moreover, Syria also agreed to permit Arab League representatives, journalists, and human rights groups to monitor the situation.  The agreement emphasized “the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation.”

If the government abides by the Arab League agreement, groups such as the Free Syrian Army committed to follow the agreement.  If the government derogates from the agreement, the group stated, “We will be compelled to protect the protesters and work on bringing down the regime no matter how much that will cost us.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – ‘Deadly Clashes’ Continue in Syria – 4 November 2011

BBC – Syria: Homs Military Attacks Continue, Say Activists – 4 November 2011

Boston Globe – Syrian Troops Fire During Protests; 9 Killed – 4 November 2011

CNN – 15 Civilians Killed in Latest Syrian Clashes, Activist Group Says – 4 November 2011

Amnesty International Reports Patients Tortured in Syrian Hospitals

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On Tuesday, 25 October, Amnesty International issued a report that claims security forces and the medical staff in government-run hospitals in Baniyas, Homs, Tell Kalakh and a military hospital in Homs subjected patients to torture and other ill-treatment.  The report entitled “Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers” alleges the government converted hospitals into instruments of repression and targeted patients and medical staff members to quash anti-government opposition.

Patients in a Syrian Hospital. (Photo Courtesy of Global Post)

The report notes the government directed those injured from anti-government activities to receive treatment at the military hospital where they considered patients detainees and held them incommunicado.  The medical staff also denied care to some of the patients injured in uprising-affiliated incidents, a gross violation of medical ethics.

Amnesty researcher Cilina Nasser reports security forces appear to have free reign of the hospitals.  The report also claims security forces obstructed ambulances with a patient en route to the hospital and interrogated patients while in the ambulance.

Nasser found it disturbing that people reported feeling safer not treating their major wounds rather than seeking treatment at a proper medical facility.  The report adds injured people prefer “to seek treatment either at private hospitals or at poorly equipped makeshift field hospitals.”

Furthermore, since the Ministry of Defense controls the blood bank, the hospital must deliberate to contact the blood bank for an injured patient.  A medic at a private hospital stated if they contact the Central Blood Bank, “the security would know about him and we would be putting him at risk or arrest and torture, and possibly death in custody.”

Doctors protested hospital raids and attacks, but hospital workers also face arrest and torture.  Ahmed, a doctor from Homs, reported many patients disappeared from his hospital.  Moreover, he saw a nurse beat a 14-year-old patient with bullet wounds.  After he alerted the hospital manager, the nurse told officials Ahmed was a member of an Islamic organization.  Rather than following the officials’ request to visit the security building, Ahmed chose to leave Syria.

The government denies torturing its opponents; however, President Assad has promised reform.  His critics do not believe the reforms will go far enough, if the government implements them at all.

During a hospital raid in September, security forces failed to find an alleged opposition armed field commander in Homs.  They arrested eighteen wounded people; one of these patients was unconscious and needed his ventilator detached before removing him from the hospital.

For more information, please see:


BBC – Syria ‘Using Hospital for Torture’ – Amnesty – 25 Oct 2011

Dalje – Syria Accused of Hospital Repressions – 25 Oct 2011

Haartez – Amnesty: Syria Regime Using Torture in Hospitals to Repress Opposition – 25 Oct 2011

Now Lebanon – Amnesty Condemns “Climate of Fear” in Syrian Hospitals – 25 Oct 2011

Syrian Government Warns International Community Against Supporting Newly-Formed National Council

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–Authorities from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have warned the international community that it will retaliate against any country that chooses to formally recognize the recently established Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC is compromised of individuals opposed to al-Assad’s rule and its formation was announced on Monday 03 October.

Anti-regime protesters in the province of Qamishli. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

The formation of the SNC has been met with encouragement by many Western nations, including the United States and France. But the international community has yet to offer the SNC any sort of formal recognition, unlike Libya’s Transitional Council (NTC), the council established by Libyan warriors who overthrew Muammar Qadhafi.

Activists and officials in the international community have come to the consensus that there are few differences between the SNC and NTC.

The SNC has formally rejected the use of foreign military intervention, but has urged the international community to “protect the Syrian people.” Chairman Burham Ghalioun stated that the group was an “independent group personifying the sovereignty of the Syrian people in their struggle for liberty.”

Walid al-Moualem, the Syrian foreigner minister, released the following statement at a news conference broadcast by Syrian national television on Sunday 09 October.

“We will take tough measures against any state which recognizes this illegitimate council.”

In the latest occurrences of violence on the streets of Syria, activists claimed that security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of mourners at a funeral of a prominent Kurdish opposition figure, Meshaal Tammo, on Saturday 08 October. As a result, the security forces killed at least seven individuals, according to the London-Based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Moualem detailed Meshaal Tammo as a “martyr” killed by “terrorists,” insinuating that he was targeted because he chose to oppose foreign intervention in Syria. The Tammo family has blamed Syrian authorities for his death. He was expected to play a pivotal role in the SNC.

Turkey has condemned the assassination of Tammo as well as attacks on other leading opposition figures in Syria. Tammo was gunned down on Friday 07 October in the northern town of Qamishli and his funeral became a mass rally with more than 50,000 demonstrators calling for the end of al-Assad’s rule, various activists groups have reported.

The Turkish foreign ministry released a written statement on Saturday 08 October, which contains the following excerpt.

“We strongly condemn the attempts aiming to suppress the Syrian opposition and the increase in attacks targeting main representatives of the opposition. Turkey is deeply sorry for the loathsome assassination of Tammo, as well as the wounding of prominent dissident Ryad Seif who was injured after being beaten on Friday in Damascus.”

CNN reported that on Sunday 09 October, Syrian police were preventing Turkish citizens from entering Syria at the border town of Nusaybin, a few kilometers north of Qamishli where Tammo was killed, due to increased tensions in the area. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has claimed that he plans to impose sanctions on Syria and has launched military exercises in the Hatay province, where Syria has a longstanding territorial stake.

Meanwhile, Syrian foreigner minister Moualem went on further to criticize European countries, singling out Germany and Switzerland, noting that protesters had attacked Syrian embassies. He claimed that if they did not meet their obligations to protect foreign missions, Syria would respond in a similar fashion.

Protesters have stormed Syrian diplomatic properties in the German cities of Berlin and Hamburg. The Syrian mission in United Nations building in Geneva also fell victim to protesters on Friday 07 October.

The Syrian foreign minister made these statements while speaking at a joint news conference with ministers from five Latin American countries. The ministers from these countries had come to show their support for al-Assad’s regime.

“If they are not committed to implementing this Geneva Convention agreement and provide security for our missions, we will treat them the same way. The West will not attack Syria because no one will pay the bill. The West chose economic sanctions to starve our people, under the pretext of protecting human rights.”

The government in Damascus has kept promising reforms, but chosen to increase crackdown on the protesters and civil unrest, blaming the activity on armed gangs. Some 2,700 are believed to have lost their lives since the protests began in March.

The ban on international journalists inside Syria continues and reports cannot be independently verified.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Syria Warns Against Recognizing Opposition – 09 October 2011

BBC – Syria Warns Against Recognizing New Opposition Council – 09 October 2011

CNN – Syria Warns Against Recognizing Opposition Council – 09 October 2011

Reuters – Syria Warns Against Recognition of Opposition Council – 09 October 2011

The Guardian – Syria’s Protesters Turn to Facebook to Expose ‘Citizen Spies’ – 08 October 2011

NYT – Leading Syria Opposition Figure Killed, and Another Publicly Beaten – 07 October 2011

 

The Death of First Syrian Woman in Custody Cuts Mortal Wound Into the Arab Spring

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HOMS, Syria–A young woman used as a puppet by Syrian security forces to entice the surrender of her activist brother has been found beheaded and dismembered, according to activist and human rights groups. The body of eighteen-year-old Zainab al-Hosni was discovered by her relatives at a morgue in the city of Homs.

A photograph of 18 year-old Zainab al-Hosni. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
A photograph of 18 year-old Zainab al-Hosni. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

The discovery was pure chance. The family had been called to the military hospital to pick up her brother’s body three days after his arrest. When they arrived at the morgue, the family was slapped in the face with a very unwelcome discovery, compounding the already existing grief over Mohammed al-Hosni.

The family had gotten word from a Homs military hospital that Mohamed’s body could be retrieved. When they arrived at the hospital, medical officials informed the relatives about another unclaimed body with a label bearing the name ‘Zainab al-Hosni’ that had been kept in a hospital freezer for some time.

Several days later, the al-Hosni family received the woman’s headless and limbless corpse according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and the Homs Quarter Union. Regime authorities forced Zainab’s mother to sign a document saying that both Zainab and Mohamed had been kidnapped and killed by an armed gang.

The Syrian government has insisted that armed gangs with foreign agendas, not anyone associated with al-Assad’s regime, are responsible for the violence that has descended upon Syria in recent months.

The number of in-custody deaths has risen to 103 since the protests began in March. Overall, the UN estimates that some 2,600 individuals have been killed in Syria since March.

Zainab al-Hosni is the first woman known to have died in custody during the recent displeasure and demonstrative dissent against Bashar a-Assad’s regime.

Mohammed was slain on September 10, when security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Homs.

Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, reported that Zainab’s body has been decapitated, her arms cut off, and her skin removed. Philip Luther, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, shared these sentiments.

“If it is confirmed that Zainab was in custody when she died, this would be one of the most disturbing cases of a death we have seen so far. We have documented other cases of protesters whose bodies were returned to their families in a mutilated state during recent months, but this is particularly shocking.”

The last time that her family saw her alive, Zainab al-Hosni was running a quick errand to the grocery store last month.

Zainab’s brother, Mohammed al-Hosni, was a prevalent opposition activist lauded by his colleagues and peers for heading up anti-government protests and treating the wounded. He had successfully evaded regime authorities for weeks when his sister disappeared, according to the Homs Quarter Union activist group. A union media coordinator relayed this statement to CNN.

“The secret police kidnapped Zainab so they could threaten her brother and pressure him to turn himself into the authorities. The government often uses this tactic to get to activists.”

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an activist group, claimed that security forces called Zainab’s family to trade her “freedom for her pro-democracy activist brother’s surrender.”

Amnesty International has reported as many as 15 in-custody deaths since publishing its 21 August report, Deadly Detention: Deaths in Custody Amid Popular Protest in Syria. The organization has list with a running tally of more than 2,200 individuals reported to have died since the anti-regime protests began. Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said these words concerning how the international community should respond.

“The mounting toll of reports of people dying behind bars provides yet more evidence of crimes against humanity and should spur the UN Security Council into referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.”

The ban on international journalists in Syria is still in full effect, making it extremely difficult to independently verify reports coming from within the country. Now that the first female in-custody death has been reported, one can only hope that it will also be the last. The unrest with al-Assad’s regime cannot continue and the demands of Syria’s citizens must be met. Or unfortunately, the news of the next in-custody death, female or not, will worsen the tensions inside Syria even further.

For more information, please see:

Ahram – More Deaths as Sanctions on Syria Widen – 23 September 2011

Al-Jazeera – More Deaths in Syria as Sanctions Tighten – 23 September 2011

Amnesty International – New Evidence of Syria Brutality Emerges as Woman’s Mutilated Body is Found – 23 September 2011

BBC – Syria Unrest: ‘First Woman Dies in Detention’ – 23 September 2011

CNN – Mourning, Outrage, Disbelief Over Woman’s Mutilation in Syria – 23 September 2011

The Guardian – Syrian Teenager Believed to Be First Female to Die in Custody Since Uprising – 23 September 2011

NYT – Syria: Woman Held by Security Is Beheaded, Rights Group Says – 23 September 2011

Syrian Protesters Call for Help from International Community as Assad Steps Up Brutality

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Protests against the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad reached a new level in Syria on Friday.  For the first time, activists requested assistance from the international community in dealing with Assad’s crackdowns on public dissidence.  More than 2,200 people are estimated to have died since protests started in mid-March.

Protesters Friday held signs calling for aid from the international community, such as the one at left. (Image courtesy of AFP)
Protesters Friday held signs calling for aid from the international community, such as the one at left. (Image courtesy of AFP)

At the same time, a story of new atrocities by the security forces surfaced.  Thursday, Human Rights Watch reported that security forces stormed al-Barr hospital in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city on Wednesday, and removed 18 wounded people from the facility.  Five of those taken were in the operating room at the time, and two were unconscious.  A doctor at the hospital told Human Rights Watch that security forces were looking for a man named Bilal, but by the time they arrived, a person of that name who had checked in had succumbed to his injuries.  The forces then went through the hospital and took anyone who had a bullet wound.

“When we tried to help the wounded who needed urgent medical care, the security forces pushed us back, saying these were criminals and rapists. They were beating the wounded as they moved them out of the hospital,” the doctor added.  “A woman, who must have been a mother or a sister of one of the wounded, begged them [the security forces] to give her relative his medication but they pushed her. The security forces then put the wounded in ambulances and drove them away. We could see them beating them inside the ambulance as they departed. I don’t know where they took them.”

This new action runs counter to a statement made by International Committee of the Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger at the end of his visit to Syria on Monday.  Kellenberger said he insisted that members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent be able to do their work without interference while he met with Assad.  Instead, it continues a pattern of security forces interfering with medical personnel’s ability to provide needed treatment to the wounded.

Friday’s rally, dubbed “Friday for International Protection,” is the latest statement from the regime’s opposition.  Despite near-certain response from the country’s security forces, these protests, with attendance numbering in the thousands, have taken place every Friday after the week’s primary Muslim prayer service.  This one was no different, with troops firing into the crowd once again.  Several people were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, but the death toll is unclear at this time.

“We want international protection!” was heard in several cities across the country.  Others called for Assad’s execution.  Still others held signs that read “Bashar: Game Over!”

A Facebook page titled “Syrian Revolution 2011” has asked the United Nations to send a permanent observer mission.  Such a mission, if deployed, would be at best, “a first step” in the process of calming and stabilizing a rapidly decaying situation, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an umbrella bloc of activists that called for monitoring as an attempt to deter continued attacks.  But such an effort could also backfire, according bloc spokesman Ahmad al-Khatib during an interview with Reuters.

“Calling for outside intervention is a sensitive issue that could be used by the regime to label its opponents as traitors,” said Khatib.

Syria’s own government does not take the protests seriously.  Friday, SANA, the country’s official news agency, issued a press release reporting that Samih Khreis, Secretary-General of the Arab Bar Association, considered the activists’ cries for help from the international community illegitimate. The report also said that the opposition should not make these requests because “’Genuine reform cannot be built on the ruins of the homeland,” but through unity.  This same release also alleged that the same calls were not representative of the people.  Instead, it said, they were “manufactured by a group from the Canadian-Zionist Organization.”

Syria’s allies are rapidly losing patience with Assad’s continued crackdowns.  Russia, who has long opposed sanctions, still feels that Syria is using excessive force in dealing with the protesters, even if they might be “terrorists.”  Turkey, once a strong supporter of the Assad regime, is now one of its most vocal critics.  Even Iran, its closest friend in the international community, has called for the killing to stop.  Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recommended that Assad start talking to the opposition instead of shooting at it.  Friday, he suggested that the region meet in Tehran, his country’s capital.

“A military solution is never the right solution,” Ahmadinejad told a Portuguese broadcaster. “We believe that freedom and justice and respect for others are the rights of all nations. All governments have to recognize these rights.  Problems have to be dealt with through dialogue.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syrians appeal for international protection — 09 September 2011

BBC — Syria unrest: Protesters call for international help — 09 September 2011

CNN — Report: Syrian forces snatched operating room patients — 09 September 2011

New York Times — Group Says Syrian Forces Seized Hospital Patients — 09 September 2011

SANA — Arab Personalities, Political Analysts: Calls for International Protection of the Syrian People Come from Canadian Zionist Organizations — 09 September 2011

Human Rights Watch — Syria: Security Forces Remove Wounded From Hospital — 08 September 2011

Syria Grants Red Cross Access to Detention Facilities

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Monday marked a step forward for the rights of those detained by the Syrian government since protests against the regime of longtime President Bashar al-Assad began in mid-March.  During a meeting with Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Syria agreed to grant the ICRC access to its primary prison facility.

A prisoner gives a defiant thumbs up as fellow detainees gather behind him (Image courtesy of Al Bawaba)
Two prisoners give defiant "thumbs up" as fellow detainees gather behind them in their shared prison cell. (Image courtesy of Al Bawaba)

This recent breakthrough comes on the heels of new information on what happens inside the detention facilities.  Last week, Amnesty International released a report on the treatment of detainees, whose number may run into the tens of thousands over just the past six months.  Highlights of the report include eyewitness accounts of beatings using both bare hands and occasionally weapons, and the use of electric shock on prisoners.  A minimum of 88 people are reported to have died in Syrian prisons between April 1 and August 15 alone, including 10 teenagers.  Amnesty International said evidence existed that 52 of those deaths were connected to torture of some form.  Syria denies that torture took place.

The results of the meeting provide limited access for the time being.  For now, the ICRC will only be able see people who were detained by the Minister of the Interior.  Kellenberger was optimistic of the possibility to expand the visits in the future.  “[W]e are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees,” he said.

Kellenberger also met with Syrian Walid Muallem Foreign Minister.  In a statement released by SANA, the country’s state-run news agency, Muallem emphasized that there was no shortage of access to medical care.  Despite recent claims that people had difficulty gaining such access, he said that the public hospitals were “constantly ready [to] provide the required medical services for all the citizens.”  He also said he was grateful for the efforts of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Organization, which had been invaluable in ensuring present needs were met.

While he spoke with Assad, Kellenberger said they “the rules governing the use of force by security forces in the current situation and the obligation to respect the physical and psychological well-being and human dignity of detainees.”

He reiterated that topic while talking to Muallem and other top Syrian officials.

A news release from SANA issued today said that Assad also embraced the ICRC’s visit.  Assad, it claimed, considered it vital that the detention center be directly examined so that alleged media distortions of what happens there could be rectified.  Continuing further, he said he “welcomed the Committee’s work as long as it remains independent and objective and is not politicized.”

The visit will give the Red Cross the chance to talk directly to detainees about their treatment in the facility.  It will also be able to request that Syrian authorities improve prison conditions and tell families about the fate of those detained.

While this news is promising, do not expect to learn exactly what the ICRC finds.  It told the BBC that, as a general rule, it does not release details of its findings during prison inspections to the public because it thinks revealing that information might limit future access to the facilities.

For more information, please see:

SANA — President al-Assad Affirms to Head of ICRC the Importance of Direct Examination of Situation in Syria in Light of Media Distortion — 06 September 2011

BBC — International Red Cross visits Syrian prison — 05 September 2011

CNN — Red Cross granted access to Syrian detention facility — 05 September 2011

ICRC — Syria: ICRC president concludes visit by holding talks with Syrian president — 05 September 2011

New York Times — Syria Allows Red Cross Officials to Visit Prison — 05 September 2011

Al Bawaba — Amnesty: Huge increase of deaths in Syrian prisons — 31 August 2011

Amnesty International — Deadly Detention: Deaths in custody amid popular protest in Syria — 31 August 2011

Raids Continue in Syria as Assad’s Position Weakens

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – The end of Ramadan brought more of the same to the Syrian people.  Over the past two days, security forces began a new series of raids intent on crushing dissent against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  Tuesday morning, at least seven people were killed when security forces fired at protesters who had gathered outside of mosques following their morning prayers to mark the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.  These latest crackdowns come in the face of continued international pressure.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad President performs the Eid Al-Fitr Prayer Tuesday morning.  At the same time, security forces fired on protesters as they finished the same prayer, killing at least seven.  (Photo courtesy of SANA)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad President performs the Eid Al-Fitr Prayer Tuesday morning. At the same time, security forces fired on protesters as they gathered after finishing the same prayer, killing at least seven people. (Photo courtesy of SANA)

“They don’t want us to have any peaceful day,” Um Mohammad, a mother of two from Damascus, told the New York Times. “We are grieving this Id, and we were not going to celebrate, so they didn’t have to kill more people today,” she added, referring to the feast of Id al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Syria appears to be in a state of flux at this time.  Although raids have continued, reports have emerged to indicate that dozens of soldiers have deserted their posts to join the uprising against Assad.  In response to the defections, the country’s security forces surrounded Rastan, a town outside Homs, the country’s third largest city, early Monday morning.  According to a Rastan resident who called himself Raed during a telephone interview with Reuters, the defections began three months ago after tanks entered the town to crush street protests, reportedly killing dozens of civilians. Other defections took place Sunday, when several dozen soldiers disobeyed orders to fire on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Al Ghouta.  The targeted activists were attempting to march toward Damascus.  The recent defections may have been influenced by the recent fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya.

But even as these recent shootings took place, the international community continues its responses. During Monday’s crackdowns, ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss further action against Syria, including the possibility of a resolution or sanctions.  The European Union has also stopped making loans through its European Investment Bank.

Turkey, which borders Syria and has been a prime destination for refugees of the Assad regime, expressed concern about its neighbor’s efforts to beat back dissent.

“The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people’s demands,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness.”

Even Iran, Syria’s closest ally, has called for Assad to listen to his people’s protests.  “The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, on Saturday. “The people of these nations have legitimate demands, and the governments should answer these demands as soon as possible.”

Despite Salehi’s statement, he also mentioned fear that the situation needed to be handled delicately.  He considered the possibility of regional chaos to be great.

Ironically, Assad also performed the traditional prayer in Damascus, accompanied by high officials within the Muslim religion, calling for peace within his country.  He used the occasion to reiterate his belief that Syria was reacting properly and was on a steady path to reform. In the meantime, the stability of the Assad regime may depend on the strength of its security force.  Protests have yet to reach the stronghold of Damascus, so security forces have been able to concentrate on the sites of protest, instead of protecting the cities from activists.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera — Syrian protesters ‘killed’ after Eid prayers — 30 August 2011

BBC — Is Syria slipping out of the grasp of its rulers? — 30 August 2011

New York Times — Security Forces in Syria Fire on Worshipers as Ramadan Ends — 30 August 2011

SANA — President Bashar al-Assad Performs Eid Al-Fitr Prayer at President Hafez al-Assad Mosque — 30 August 2011

Al Bawaba — European Investment Bank stops loans to Syria — 29 August 2011

Al Bawaba — Syrian forces continue raids as Erdogan warns Assad — 29 August 2011

Al Jazeera — Syria forces surround town after ‘defections’ — 29 August 2011

New York Times — Amid Syrian Raids, Reports of Desertions — 29 August 2011

New York Times — Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens’ Demands — 27 August 2011

Popular Syrian Political Cartoonist Attacked and Hospitalized; Security Forces Suspected

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Ali Farzat, one of the most popular political cartoonists in the Middle East, was brutally attacked by masked gunman early yesterday morning in Damascus.  The gunmen, suspected to be members of Syria’s security forces, pulled the 60-year-old from his car and beat him, focusing their blows on his arms.  Farzat, who has since been brought to a hospital and is recovering from his injuries, suffered two broken fingers on his left hand, a fractured right arm, and a bruised left eye.

Ali Farzat, Syrias best-known political cartoonist, lies in Damascuss al-Razi Hospital following Thursday mornings attack
Ali Farzat, Syria's best-known political cartoonist, lies in Damascus's al-Razi Hospital following his being attacked Thursday morning. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

This attack is among the latest in Syria, whose embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, has spent the last several months using security forces to crack down on dissenters.  Earlier this week, the United Nations called for further investigation into the crackdowns, which may constitute crimes against humanity.  But President Assad has continued to stand firm, calling the protesters terrorists whose crushing was necessary to protect the country.

The attack on Farzat indicates a new level of paranoia by the Assad regime.  Even before yesterday, fans could only access his cartoons on his private website because Syria had banned their appearance in local newspapers.  His popularity is derived from his willingness to skewer leaders across the Middle East, including former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the head of the Libyan government.  During Farzat’s 40 year career, his work has emphasized the “mismatch between rhetoric and reality in the Arab world,” as described by BBC Arab Affairs analyst Sebastian Usher.  These drawings have generally used generic government officials, but his work over the past few months has directly attacked Assad.  One of his most recent drawings depicted the Syrian leader carrying a suitcase while trying to get a lift from Gaddafi, who is driving a getaway car.  These criticisms came in spite of a ban on caricatures of Assad’s face.

Ayad Sharbaji, a friend of Farzat’s who visited him in the hospital, told the New York Times what Farzat recounted from the beating. “They told him as they were burning his beard, ‘We’ll see what you will draw from now on.  How dare you disobey your masters?’”

Usher considered the attack a sign that Farzat’s cartoons had “hit home and that the authorities’ tolerance for dissent is touching zero.”

Activists were concerned by this attack.  “What happened to Ali Farzat today scared us,” said an activist from Homs, who wished to be identified only by her first name, Sally. “But it’s only a proof of how desperate the regime is. It shows how frightened they are and proves that they are losing control.”

The United States was quick to respond with a statement from the State Department.  Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, issuing the statement, called Assad’s repeated promises of reform a series of “empty promises about dialogue with the Syrian people.”  Continuing further, Nuland reiterated the U.S.’s stance that Syria should promptly cease its attacks on dissenters against the Assad regime.

SANA, Syria’s official news agency, also reported the assault.  In a press release, the agency said that Farzat’s attackers were “veiled people.”  It concluded that “Authorities concerned are conducting an investigation” of the incident.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — US condemns Syria political cartoonist attack — 26 August 2011

SANA — Caricaturist Ali Farzat Attacked by Veiled People — 26 August 2011

BBC — Syria unrest: Famed cartoonist Ali Ferzat ‘beaten’ — 25 August 2011

New York Times — Political Cartoonist Whose Work Skewered Assad Is Brutally Beaten in Syria — 25 August 2011

Impunity Watch — Assad stands firm against pressure to step down, new investigation of violence in Syria — 23 August 2011

Syria Continues Suppression of Dissenters in Defiance of World Leaders

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – The international community escalated its pressure on embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday.  Numerous countries, including the United States, and the European Union issued statements calling for him to relinquish his post after his use of violence against protesters drew worldwide scorn.  But even in the face of such opposition, Syria continued its efforts to suppress opposition.  Armed forces opened fire on a demonstration in the southern Dara’a Province Friday; at least 18 were killed, including soldiers who refused to fire.

A tank roams the streets of a Syrian city. At least 2,000 people are believed to have been killed since March. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)
A tank roams the streets of a Syrian city. At least 2,000 people are believed to have been killed since protests against Assad's regime began in March. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

This new insistence from world leaders comes on the heels of a United Nations report on Assad’s use of force against dissenters that was released on Thursday.  While the investigators were not allowed into the country, they were able to obtain witness accounts of incidents that have taken place in Syria since March of this year.  In addition to descriptions of individual events, the report takes note of the security forces’ modus operendi in crushing opposition to Assad’s government.  Though Syria has repeatedly called the protesters “terrorist armed groups” and similar phrases, the report indicates that participators in the rallies made a point of indicating that they were unarmed.  Despite this, the forces indiscriminately shot to kill civilians, including women and children.  Torture was also used.

U.S. President Barack Obama was one of several world leaders to issue a statement calling for Assad to resign.  “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people,” Obama said.  “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way.  He has not led.  For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

Obama also announced that he and the European Union had imposed new sanctions against the Syria, including the freezing of assets and a ban on importation of Syrian petroleum.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on the matter.  “We urge the Syrian regime to stop all violence immediately, to release all prisoners of conscience and to allow free access to the United Nations for an independent assessment of the situation,” their statement said.

Later Thursday, the UN announced that it would send a humanitarian team to Syria to investigate, having been promised full access.  The country’s UN ambassador and President Assad both promised that military operations had stopped.  But Friday, a new rally was snuffed out, as armed forces again fired at demonstrators.  Gunfire was reported in several provinces.  Today, CNN reported that the Syrian government took steps to clean up evidence of violence at one of the crackdown sites the humanitarian team was to visit.

SANA, Syria’s official news agency, issued a press release today that reiterated Assad’s stance that the Western world, with particular emphasis on the United States, was interfering in the country’s internal affairs.  The release, which cited several legal scholars within the country, considered these actions to be in violation of the UN charter.  With regards to President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, it called these conspiratorial efforts to take control of Syria a “return to the colonial mentality to save themselves,” making reference to the two politicians’ declining approval ratings.

For more information, please see:

CNN — Source: Syria ‘whitewashing’ bloody crackdown before U.N. team arrives — 21 August 2011

SANA — Intellectuals and Jurists: Foreign Interference in Syria’s Affairs Disrupt Reform, Show Failure of Conspirators — 21 August 2011

Al Jazeera — UN report slams Syria’s use of force — 19 August 2011

New York Times — Syria Said to Fire on Protest in Defiance of Global Rebuke — 19 August 2011

BBC News — Syria unrest: UN to send humanitarian mission — 18 August 2011

BBC News — Syria unrest: World leaders call for Assad to step down — 18 August 2011

British Prime Minister’s Office — Joint UK, French and German statement on Syria — 18 August 2011

White House — President Obama’s statement calling for Syrian President Assad to step down — 18 August 2011

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Syria pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-16/1 — 17 August 2011

IN SPREADING TOWARDS THE TURKISH BORDER, AL-ASSAD’S REGIME EXTENDS ITS DESTRUCTION AND DISREGARD FOR THE VALUE OF CIVILIAN LIVES

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–Deciding that expanding to Deir el-Zour was not satisfactory, the Syrian government ignored Turkish pressure to cease its activities and continued to pummel through towns further east. As recently as today, 11 August 2011, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the Syrian army entered the town of Saraqeb in northwestern Idlib province, detaining as many as 100 individuals.

Damaged vehicles and buildings in Hama. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
Damaged vehicles and buildings in Hama. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, activists whom help organize and catalog the protests, reported explosions and gunfire were heard after the army descended upon the area. A resident of Saraqeb who fled the area relayed these remarks to an Al-Jazeera correspondent.

“Around 14 tanks and armored vehicles entered Saraqeb this morning, accompanied by 50 buses, pick-ups and security cars. They started firing randomly and storming houses.”

On Wednesday 10 August 2011, SOHR reported that the government assault on civilians also had extended to the towns of Taftanaz and Sermin, when 12 tanks and armored vehicles entered both towns. During this expansion, SOHR reported that at least one woman was killed and 13 were injured.

Taftanaz and Sermin are located approximately 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) east from Syria’s border with Turkey. Saraqeb is located approximately 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) southeast of Turkey’s Iskenderun province.

Further in the south of the county, rolling government crackdowns also victimized the central province of Homs. The town of Qusayr saw columns of tanks enter its borders and many activists reported that individuals were desperately trying to escape while communications with the city have been severed.

“Residents fled into the fields and all communications have been cut with the town.”

BBC reported that seven civilians were killed during the invasion, as Syrian security forces carried out mass arrests.

Syrian army units reportedly left central Hama today on 11 August 2011, as the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) conveyed these remarks on the situation.

“The military departed after restoring the security and stability to the city that have been through tough times due to the acts of killing, terrorizing, and sabotage that were done by the armed terrorists groups.”

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that clusters of individuals were killed during a siege that lined up with last week’s start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After evening prayers on Wednesday 10 August, opposition activists claimed that demonstrators poured into the streets in the southern part of the city. Also, activists claimed that security forces opened fire and killed two people.

Reports of this incident could not be confirmed.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday 10 August, Turkey’s envoy to Syria, Omer Onhon, journeyed to Hama and was able to confirm that the tanks and heavy weaponry had withdrawn from the city.

The international community continues its efforts to compel al-Assad’s regime to cease its actions. On Wednesday 10 August 2011, the UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the 15 members of the Security Council behind closed doors about the situation. Last week, the UNSC called for an “immediate” halt to the violence, a call that apparently did not reach or did not matter to al-Assad.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said the sovereignty of his country must never be challenged.

“Our sovereignty is a red line that must not be crossed. We know our commitments, our obligations but at the same time we know what are our rights. And our rights do not stem from any political pressure. They stem from our own political will.”

The U.S Treasury Department, taking its own measures, on Wednesday 10 August announced a block of the mobile phone operator Syriatel, the Commercial Bank of Syria, and the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank. Also, it declared that Americans are “generally prohibited from engaging in commercial or financial transactions with the companies. It is expected that U.S. President Barack Obama will formally call for al-Assad to step down in the next few days.

Other countries such as Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus.

The nation-wide crackdowns have claimed some 2,000 lives since the protests began in mid-March, according to various rights groups. But with the restriction on international journalists in Syria, these reports cannot be independently confirmed.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-Syrian forces ‘storm border town’-11 August 2011

BBC-Syrian security forces ‘kill seven in Homs province’-11 August 2011

CNN-Syrian forces push into Saraqib, death toll escalates, group says-11 August 2011

New York Times-Support for Assad Government Shows Signs of Weakening-10 August 2011

The Guardian-Obama to toughen stance on Syria with call for Assad’s departure-10 August 2011

Syria Defies U.N. Condemnation, Continues Attacks on Civilians

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DEIR EL-ZOUR, Syria –The Syrian government launched new attacks against civilians today, continuing a siege on the eastern city of Deir el-Zour that had been ongoing for over a week.  At least 52 people have been killed so far.  The attacks come just days after the United Nations condemned the Middle Eastern country’s shocking strikes against protesters in Hama.

The Hama campaign, which killed an estimated 76 people last Sunday, drew international scorn.  Since then, anti-government protests have begun in coincidence with the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month on the Muslim calendar.  During this time, in an effort to prevent such sentiment from growing into a revolution, the government has placed Hama and Deir el-Zour under siege.  Today’s attack is an escalation of the siege; power and phone lines have reportedly been cut.

According to one activist in Deir el Zour who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post, “Humanitarian conditions in the city are very bad because it has been under siege for nine days.  There is lack of medicine, baby formula, food and gasoline. The city is totally paralyzed.”

This action took place despite widespread disapproval from multiple sources.  Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council issued a unanimous presidential statement that “condemned the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.”  Today, the Arab League joined the many who spoke out against the actions taken by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for a national dialogue.

Human Rights Watch, an independent organization that observed the situation, considered the resolution a sign of isolation by the Syrian government.  “The Security Council’s unanimous statement shows that Syria can no longer count on even its close allies to support its crackdown on peaceful protesters,” said Peggy Hicks, the organization’s global advocacy director. “President Bashar Assad needs to listen to the council’s strong message, and end the attacks by his security forces in Hama and across the country.”

Yesterday, Assad spoke to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon by telephone.  Ban was concerned about the mounting violence and civilian casualties.  During the talk, he called for an immediate end to the attacks.

In response to the condemnation, Assad defended the sieges by saying that the country was making progress and that the government had an obligation to deal with dissenters.  “Syria is on the path to reforms,” he said, quoted by state news agency SANA. “To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians.”  As an example of such “outlaws,” SANA reported that earlier this morning, an armed terrorist group ambushed and fired on a military convoy.  An officer and two soldiers were “martyred” as a result.

The next message for Assad will be delivered Tuesday, when Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will meet with Syrian officials to discuss his present concerns.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syrian army launches fresh assaults — 7 August 2011

SANA — Officer, Two Soldiers Martyred in Ambush Set by Armed Terrorist Group East of al-Rastan — 7 August 2011

Washington Post — Syrian troops intensify crackdown on eastern city, activists say at least 52 killed — 7 August 2011

CNN — Ban calls for an end to use of force on Syrian civilians — 6 August 2011

Human Rights Watch — UN: Syria Should Heed Council’s Call to End Attacks — 4 August 2011

Impunity Watch — Syrian death toll sparks condemnation and foretells future violence — 2 August 2011

THE SITUATION IN SYRIA CONTINUES TO DETERIORATE, BUT NOT THE RESOLVE OF ITS ACTIVISTS

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–The volatile situation in Syria has shown absolutely no signs of cooling down, as at least 11 individuals have been killed when military forces backed by tanks stormed a small town of Kanaker near the capital of Damascus.

Protesters in the streets of Damascus. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
Protesters in the streets of Damascus. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The Syrian Observatory, based in Britain, reported that four tanks and a bulldozer entered Kanaker on 27 July 2011, while 14 other tanks surrounded the town. The raid on the city took place after electricity and phones lines were cut off in the area. This activity is merely the latest swing in the crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad. Residents threw stones and set fire to tires of vehicles in an attempt to stall the advance of troops.

Rami Adubl-Rahman, a correspondent for the Syrian Observatory, reported this recollection of the raid to CNN:

“At 3AM Wednesday, Syrian security forces and army soldiers stormed Kanaker amid heavy gunfire. Some residents threw rocks at the tanks and burned their tires as many chanted ‘Allah is the Greatest’ in the west part of the town where seven tanks took positions there.”

Kanaker is located 30 kilometers (approximately 18.64 miles) southwest of Damascus.

The Syrian National Organization for Human Rights reported that military intelligence agents arrested some 300 individuals in Kanaker and took them away in 11 buses. Ammar Qurabi, a key opposition figure, leads this group.

The restriction on international journalists in Syria has made it increasingly difficult to verify the accuracy of reports given by the various human rights groups active in the country.

This recent crackdown appeared to come as a result of two organizations in France threatening to file legal complaints against President al-Assad and other members of the ruling Baath party. The two organizations, Sherpa and Transparency International France, said on 26 July 2011 that they wish the French government to make all of its findings public. They are primarily concerned with discovering if al-Assad and members of his party own any assets in France.

“The object is get an investigation open that would then identify assets that they may own in France either in their own name or through intermediaries and then to freeze them so they are not transferred to uncooperative jurisdictions.”

According to various human rights groups, more than 1,600 civilians have lost their lives and some 20,000 others imprisoned by Syrian security forces in the countrywide crackdown on the protests since March.

But these numbers are not lowering the spirits of the activists and protesters in the least. Moaz Al Sibaai, the coordinator for the Syrian activists’ network, reported to CNN that the opposition is always working to find ways to improve its work. He specifically highlighted improving communication with the media, developing secure telecommunications that cannot be hacked or tracked, and teaching how to lobby against the regime by documenting human rights violations.

“The harsher the regime is with its crackdown, the more creative we become in finding ways to cover the revolution.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-Syrian troops in ‘deadly crackdown’-27 July 2011

BBC-Syrian forces kill eight in Kanaker raid: rights groups-27 July 2011

CNN-Activists: 8 slain in Syrian protest-27 July 2011

The Guardian-Syrian protesters ‘forcibly disappeared’ at rate of one every hour, say activists-28 July 2011

CHAOS AND DEATH DESCEND ON THE STREETS OF SYRIA

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HOMS, Syria–The focal point of the uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad has turned fatal for civilians. Syrian troops and armed factions have spawned fear and turmoil on the streets of the city of Homs. Witnesses said that armed forces opened fire on 18 July 2011 outside the Khaled Bin al-Waleed mosque during funeral services for people killed in the past 24 hours. A local resident described these factions as “death squads.”

A funeral service for policemen in Homs. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
A funeral service for policemen in Homs. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Homs is located about 100 miles north from Damascus and rests in one of the country’s poorest regions. The sectarian violence indicates a precarious turn in the protests that have lasted since March, increasing tensions between different portions of Syria’s diverse religious makeup. The majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, while President al-Assad and his ruling clan are Alawites.

Syrian rights activist Rami Abdulrahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights offered these words on 18 July 2011 to describe the situation.

“Thirteen civilians were killed yesterday and today in several parts of Homs when the army opened fire as it carried out an operation in the city. These clashes are a dangerous development that undermines the revolution and serves the interests of its enemies who want it to turn into a civil war.”

A Homs resident spoke to a Reuters correspondent via telephone on 19 July 2011 and described the situation.

“There are troops and armored vehicles in every neighborhood. The irregular forces with them are death squads. They have been firing indiscriminately since dawn with rifles and machine guns. No one can leave their homes.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 30 civilians lost their lives in Homs during riots. Bodies of the minority Alawite sect, which President al-Assad is a member, were found mutilated.

In totality, activists are reporting that the Syrian government’s onslaught on pro-democracy and anti-regime protests have claimed the lives of some 1,400 civilians. Thousands more are imprisoned for their participation while some 350 security forces personnel have died since the protests began.

Due to restrictions on international journalists reporting in Syria, the specific details of these events cannot independently be confirmed or verified. But human rights groups and activists have tried their best to relay an accurate depiction of what is really happening on the ground.

The international community already well on its way in applying diplomatic pressure on al-Assad. Qatar, a previously major backer of al-Assad, recently closed its embassy in Damascus.

The EU has imposed travel bans and engaged asset freezes on some 34 Syrian individuals and entities. But after a meeting in Brussels of EU foreign ministers, the Hague is ready to take things a step further and expressed these sentiments.

“Until the unacceptable violence against civilian population is halted…the EU will pursue and carry forward its currently policy, including through sanctions.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-‘Death squads’ on streets of Homs-19 July 2011

BBC-Syrian troops ‘kill mourners in Homs assault’-19 July 2011

CNN-Activists: Syrian forces shoot at funeral procession-19 July 2011

New York Times-At Funerals for Protesters, More Syrians Are Fatally Shot-19 July 2011

Syrian government tries to curb unrest in symbolic city

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HAMA, Syria — After anti-government protests last Friday, Syrian troops began a now continuing barrage of raids and arrests, aimed at quelling the country’s unrest in many of its more notorious trouble spots.

Thousands protest in Hama (Photo courtesy of The Guardian).
Thousands protest in Hama (Photo courtesy of The Guardian).

Hama, a city of around 800,000 people, still quaking with scars from a previous governmental onslaught of nearly a generation ago, is one of those trouble spots. The city, located in a corridor between Damascus and Aleppo, has become a symbolic center for what has become a four-month uprising against the ruling Assad family.

Recently, the city’s protests have been gaining momentum.  This was clearly evidenced on Friday, by a demonstration of tens of thousands; gathering in Hama’s appropriately renamed Freedom Square.

Hama is considered by some to be liberated, but this did not stop the Syrian security forces from raiding the city’s outskirts and making numerous arrests on Monday.

One resident saw “at least 30 buses carrying soldiers and security police.”  The soldiers were “firing randomly in residential neighborhoods.” The random shooting has injured at least 21 people, and killed around 7.

The city’s inhabitants are not taking the military’s actions sitting down.  Activists threw rocks, while others attempted to build barricades out of whatever they could find – burning tires, stones, and trash bins.  There are accounts of self-defense committees being created to patrol some of the neighborhoods.  Their purpose appears to be both to maintain order and to protect from governmental crackdowns.

The Syrian forces retreated almost as quickly as they appeared, but the people of Hama don’t think they are gone for good.  “People are waiting.  They can’t control Hama unless they wipe out the people here,” said a 24-year-old student who identified himself only as Abdel-Rahman.

Prior to Monday’s events the government had cited Hama as an example of the leadership’s good will, allowing dissent as long as it didn’t cause too much harm.  This recent uprising has shown that Hama is in reality a vexing problem for the government.

The city’s name echoes with memories of the government’s historic brutality.  In 1982, the Syrian military stormed the city to suppress an armed Islamic opposition group, killing at least 10,000 people.  For this reason, the government has gone out of its way to avoid stirring too much trouble in the city.  In June, after around 73 people were killed during a protest in Hama, the government ordered a military withdrawal and fired a group of security officials.

Despite this reluctance for the government to fight the conflict in the very city that symbolizes the opposition’s struggle, it appears it was inevitable.  The opposition has deep roots in Hama, and the uprisings momentum shows no sign of letting up.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Several ‘shot dead’ in Hama crackdown — 5 July 2011

Al Jazeera — ‘Shooting and arrests’ in Syrian city — 4 July 2011

BBC News — Syria unrest: ‘Arrests in Hama as tanks move on Idlib’ — 4 July 2011

New York Times — Fears Rise With Arrests in Restive Syrian City — 4 July 2011