Monday, August 8, 2011
One week after Hama Syrian forces kill scores of people in Deir az-Zor
King Abdullah of Saudi-Arabia broke Arab silence after the bloodiest week of the almost five-month uprising in Syria, demanding an end to the bloodshed and recalling the Saudi ambassador from Damascus."What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia," Abdullah said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television. "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms," he said. "Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.'' His statement followed similar messages since Saturday from the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
"Armored vehicles are shelling the al-Hawiqa district heavily with their ... guns. Private hospitals are closed and people are afraid to send the wounded to state facilities because they are infested with secret police," Mohammad, a resident, told Reuters by telephone. The al-Joura neighborhood of Deir al-Zor, which straddles the Euphrates River, was also hit hard by Assad's forces and thousands of residents of both districts had fled, he said with crump of heavy-caliber weaponry audible in the background. He said at least 65 people had been killed since tanks and armored vehicles barreled into the provincial capital, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus, on Sunday, crumpling makeshift barricades and opening fire.
The assault on the city, in an oil-producing province bordering Iraq, took place a week after tanks stormed Hama, where residents say scores have been killed.
Syrian authorities denied that any Deir al-Zor assault had taken place. The official state news agency said "not a single tank has entered Deir al-Zor" and reports of tanks in the city were "the work of provocateur satellite channels".
Syria has barred most journalists, making it hard to confirm events reported by either side in the conflict.
The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union said 50 people had been killed in Deir al-Zor on Sunday and at least 13 had been killed in a separate, tank-led assault on villages in the central Houla Plain, near the city of Homs.
"The numbers of casualties are escalating by the hour," activist Suhair al-Atassi, a member of the Coordinating Union, said by phone from Damascus on Sunday.
Syrian authorities say they have faced armed attacks since the protests first erupted in March, blaming armed saboteurs for most of the civilian deaths and accusing them of killing 500 security personnel. State television broadcast footage on Sunday of mutilated bodies floating in the Orontes river in Hama, saying 17 police had been ambushed and killed in the city.
Human rights groups have reported some cases of gunmen attacking security forces, but say Assad's forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians taking part in overwhelmingly peaceful protests. The United States says the figure exceeds 2,000.
Assad, who has repeatedly described the uprising as a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria, defended the army's campaign. He was quoted by the official national news agency on Sunday as saying his forces were fulfilling a national duty by "dealing with outlaws and convicts ... who seal off cities and terrorise the population".
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who cultivated close ties with Assad but has sharply criticised the crackdown, said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would visit Syria on Tuesday.
"Our message will be decisively delivered," he said, drawing a rebuke from an Assad adviser, who described the Turkish statement as unbalanced.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Davutoglu on Sunday, the State Department said, asking him to "reinforce" Washington's position that Syria must immediately return its military to barracks and release all prisoners of concern.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told Assad by phone on Saturday he was alarmed by the escalating violence and demanded he rein in the army. He repeated his appeal on Monday during a visit to Japan.