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.”
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