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Syria Protesters Defy Government Forces as U.S. Condemns Latakia ‘Carnage’
Protesters opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule defied government forces and pressed ahead with nightly gatherings in flash-point areas, including the blockaded port city of Latakia, an activist said.
Demonstrators massed at evening rallies amid a curfew in Latakia, where tension has been heightened since the military closed off access by land and sea this week, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said today. Gunfire was heard and security forces made many arrests, with a clampdown also under way in the central city of Homs, he said.
About 50 tanks took up positions near Homs, where shelling occurred, Al Arabiya said, citing activists. At least two people died in the Homs area today and another in Latakia, Merhi said.
The U.S. has been unable to verify reports that warships fired on Latakia, “but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s plenty of carnage in the city of Latakia being inflicted on innocents by Syrian armor, by Syrian snipers, by Syrian security personnel,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters yesterday in Washington.
At least one person was killed in Deir al-Zour late yesterday and two died in Homs, Merhi said. More than 2,400 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March, according to Merhi and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The United Nations has put the toll at about 2,000. Protests began after revolts ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, and destabilized Libya.
Demonstrators took the streets of Syria’s capital, Damascus, and its suburbs as well as the eastern town of Deir al-Zour and the southern area of Daraa, where the uprising began, Merhi said by phone from Damascus.
Latakia, which was overtaken by soldiers backed by artillery and warships this week, has been subjected to tank fire that targeted Sunni Muslim areas, Merhi said. The government said any naval action on the city was a “routine exercise” aimed at preventing weapons smuggling by sea, not an attack.
Assad has ignored “the increasing chorus of condemnation from the international community, which is why we are working hard now with our partners around the world to increase the pressure, political and economic,” Nuland said.
“So long as the Syrian army and security forces remain loyal, it will be difficult to topple Assad,” said Patrick Seale, a biographer of Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad. “His main asset is that no foreign country has any appetite for a military intervention and the Russians and the Chinese will certainly veto any attempt to condemn him at the UN Security Council.”
President Barack Obama, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and British Prime Minister David Cameron have called on Syria’s government to stop attacking its people. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Aug. 12 urged nations doing business with Syria to cut off trade and arms sales. Canada is extending sanctions on Assad’s regime.
“Now is the time for President Assad to act in response to these calls,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday. “He is fast losing the last shreds of his legitimacy. He must stop the violence immediately.”
The foreign minister of neighboring Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on Aug. 15 that the “time for words will be over” unless Syria ends military operations against its people.
Assad, who succeeded his father as president after his death in 2000, has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots. More than 500 members of the security forces have died since the unrest began, the government has said.
The U.S. State Department estimates that the government has detained more than 30,000 people.
The UN has withdrawn non-essential staff from Syria, the office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said when contacted by phone today.
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