Syria’s Security Forces Have Killed 56 in Past Three Days, Activists Say
Syrian security forces have killed at least 56 anti-government protesters in the past three days, activists said, as regional and international pressure mounted on President Bashar al-Assad to halt a crackdown on dissent.
The deaths took place in the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, the central province of Homs, the northern governorate of Idlib and in the southern part of Daraa, where the uprising began in March, said Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. At least 17 protesters died today in Homs, Idlib, the Hama governorate, the city of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and suburbs of the capital, Damascus, as thousands marched, said Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in an interview with CBS News yesterday, urged Europe, India and China to step up pressure on Assad to leave and to impose sanctions on Syria’s oil and gas industry.
The Obama administration may soon call on Assad to step down, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because the administration is still discussing the issue and considering the timing of any announcement. While the U.S. is concerned about the possibility of civil war in Syria, it’s more focused on the prospect of sectarian violence promoted by the government and the chance that the Syrian situation will spark instability in the Middle East, the official said yesterday.
At least two members of the security forces were killed by gunmen in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the state-run SANA news agency reported today. More than 500 members of the forces have died since the start of the unrest, according to the government.
More than 300 protesters have been killed since July 31, the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to Qurabi and Merhi. Demonstrators across Syria, including the Damascus suburbs, took to the streets late yesterday after breaking the daily Ramadan fast and completing evening prayers, Merhi said by phone today.
Merhi and Qurabi, who compile the names of the dead, say Assad’s forces have killed more than 2,400 protesters and detained thousands since the revolt began.
Another activist, Abdul-Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian Human Rights League, was arrested yesterday at a cafe in central Damascus, Merhi and Qurabi said.
Momentum may be building for bolder steps to stop Assad after Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Damascus this week and Turkey said its neighbor is entering a “critical” period.
“Defections in the army are increasing, we are in the hundreds now and will be in the thousands shortly,” Hussein Harmoush, a lieutenant colonel who split from the military in June and is the spokesman for the Free Arab Syrian Army, said in a phone interview today from Syria, near the border with Turkey.
Harmoush, 39, who served in the army since 1991, said he and other defectors left the forces when their mission “changed from protecting the state and preserving order to killing innocent people.” He said the defector forces don’t actively engage government troops in battle and are present at protests in a “protective capacity to defend protesters.”
European nations renewed a push for a United Nations resolution against the bloodshed and the U.S. imposed new financial sanctions on Syrian banks and telecommunications. Russia has indicated it isn’t convinced that a UN resolution is needed.
“We are considering how we might broaden the range of sanctions that we have against Syria,” EU spokesman Michael Mann told reporters today in Brussels. “We are working on various options and in doing that we are in constant touch with our partners, including the U.S.”
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone yesterday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the situation in Syria. They agreed on “the need for an immediate halt of all violence and bloodshed” and “to closely monitor the actions the Syrian government is taking” in response to anti-government protests, according to a White House statement.
“Being a leader that shapes evolution instead of being blown around by the winds of change will place Assad in a historical position,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in a letter delivered Aug. 9 to the Syrian leader by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, according to the state-run Turkish news service Anatolia. “I wouldn’t want you to one day look back and regret that you’re actions were too late and too little.”
Assad this week responded to growing criticism about the crackdown by admitting “some mistakes” were made by his security forces in the “initial stages” of unrest. Diplomats representing Brazil, India and South Africa -- a bloc in the UN Security Council reluctant to punish Assad -- said they met in Damascus with the Syrian leader, who told them “efforts were under way to prevent” the mistakes from recurring.
As the U.S. vows to increase Assad’s isolation, what’s important to consider is whether statements from regional powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey are “proactive or reactive,” said Chris Phillips, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.
“Have they stepped up the rhetoric because they want to influence the process or because they want to cover their own backs?” Phillips said. “And has a decision been made to prepare a contingency for post-Assad Syria, to make sure it’s shaped in a way that suits them or is it an active attempt to hasten the departure of Assad?”
Phillips said, “There is no answer to that at the moment from the Saudis, and I think we will see that in the next couple of weeks if they develop or evolve their policy beyond rhetoric.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.
Bloomberg moderates all comments. Comments that are abusive or off-topic will not be posted to the site. Excessively long comments may be moderated as well. Bloomberg cannot facilitate requests to remove comments or explain individual moderation decisions.