Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Death toll in Latakia stands at at least 35 after four days of bombardments and shooting

Smoke rises up from explosions in Latakia. (Reuters).
The death toll in the Syrian port city of Latakia rose to 35 on Tuesday as a result of an assault that now is in its fourth day. The offensive on Latakia is part of a military crackdown with tanks that the Syrian regime launched at the beginning of the month of Ramadan. It started with an assault on Hama, followed by crackdowns on the eastern city of Deir el-Zour and  the central city of Homs, and now it is the turn of Latakia, where not only tank but also gunboats take part in the operation.
Most of the shooting early Tuesday was in Latakia's impoverished al-Ramel, al-Shaab and Ein Tamra areas, AP reported. Part of Latakia is populated by Alawites, the heterodox Shiite community to which president Assad and the bulk of the Syrian leadership belong, but these neighbourhoods ar Sunni. Al-Ramel is home to a crowded Palestinian refugee camp where many low-income Syrians also live.The U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees has said more than 5,000 refugees have fled the camp after Assad's forces shelled the city in an operation that began Saturday. Syria has denied firing from gunboats, despite widespread witness accounts. The regime insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out terrorists fomenting unrest in the country. State-run news agency SANA said Tuesday that troops were pursuing "armed terrorists" from al-Ramel, arresting a number of gunmen and dismantling explosives and mines they had planted.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of people on the ground, said at least 17 people were killed Monday, six of them in Latakia. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said a 22-year-old Palestinian mother of two died Tuesday.  The deaths bring the total of people who have died in Latakia since Saturday to more than 35. The other deaths took place in Homs and Houla in central Syria, when security forces opened fire on protesters. A man who had been shot earlier in Deir el-Zour died of his wounds Tuesday, according to the Observatory.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Monday on Syria to immediately end the bloodshed and threatened unspecified "steps" if it fails to do so. "If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken," Davutoglu said, without elaborating.Turkey, a former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus' crackdown. Davutoglu traveled to Syria last week and urged Assad to end the bloodshed. But Turkey, Syria's neighbor and an important trade partner, has not joined the U.S. and Europe in imposing sanctions.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said  the U.S. would be looking to apply further sanctions against Assad's government. The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the European Union to freeze the arrests of Syrian national oil and gas companies and the Central Bank of Syria "until the Syrian government ends gross human rights abuses against its citizens." Oil and gas are among Syria's main exports.

This video (taken yesterday) gives an idea of the intensity of the fire. Al-Jazeera English report that also thousands of people in the city are being rounded up and held in a sports stadium.

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