Syrian Protest Crackdown Continues; NATO Jets Strike in Libya

Syrian security forces attacked protesters who had taken to the streets by the thousands, killing at least three people and chasing hundreds of others into neighboring Lebanon, as NATO jets struck targets in Libya’s capital of Tripoli.

Yemeni forces killed at least one protester and injured dozens more in the city of Taaz yesterday, according to a doctor and activist, and six Yemeni security personnel were killed in an attack by suspected al-Qaeda militants in Radaa, the Ministry of Defense reported. In the U.S., three U.S. citizens, including two imams in Florida, were among six people indicted for conspiring to aid the Pakistani Taliban in attacks against Pakistani and U.S. interests in South Asia.

Syrian security forces killed at least a dozen people over the past two days as nationwide protests defied mass arrests amid an intensifying crackdown on dissent that began about two months ago.

At least three people were killed yesterday in the town of Tall Kalakh, the New York Times reported. The unrest there caused about 500 Syrians to flee across the nearby border into Lebanon, Ammar Qurabi, the head of the National Organization for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview.

Security forces killed four protesters in the central city of Homs on May 13, two in the southern city of Daraa and three in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus. The government continued to make widespread arrests and to conduct house-to-house searches, Qurabi and Mahmoud Merhi of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said.

Suppression Continues

The suppression of pro-democracy protests in Syria began in mid-March after popular revolts ousted longtime leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. The uprising drew initial pledges of reform from President Bashar al-Assad, who lifted an emergency law in place since 1963 and named a new government. He hasn’t repeated the assurances in recent weeks as security forces stepped up their assaults.

More than 800 demonstrators have been killed since the uprising began, according to Qurabi and Merhi, who have compiled a list of the names of victims. As many as 10,000 people have been detained, they said. Most foreign journalists have been banned from Syria and the government has restricted media access.

The army and security authorities have said they are pursuing “terrorist elements.” They have aired footage on state television of what they said were confiscated arms and ammunition and confessions of alleged members of terrorist or extremist groups.

The Interior Ministry said 5,077 people “involved in riot acts” have surrendered under an amnesty that expires today, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Humanitarian Review

Assad has rejected United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s request to send a humanitarian assessment team to Syria and hasn’t responded to the UN Human Rights Council’s call for a fact-finding mission. Assad agreed May 4 to allow UN aid workers into the country, and then reneged on that pledge, according to Martin Nesirky, UN spokesman.

In Libya, NATO war jets yesterday struck the Aziziya neighborhood in Tripoli, the area of leader Muammar Qaddafi’s compound, state TV said. There were no reports of damage or casualties.

Before those latest attacks, Qaddafi said he survived recent NATO bombings and is now in a place “you can’t reach and where you can’t kill me.”

Qaddafi Interview

State television on May 13 presented what it said was a telephone interview with Qaddafi, hours after Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Qaddafi may have been wounded. The Libyan leader thanked his followers for their concern after Frattini’s remarks as he denounced NATO as the “cowardly crusader.”

“Even if you kill the body, you will not be able to kill the soul that lives in the hearts of millions,” he said.

In Washington, President Barack Obama met on May 13 with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Military operations will continue “as long as the Qaddafi regime continues to attack its own population,” they said in a statement released by the White House.

Arrest Warrants

Frattini said Qaddafi is likely to be named in an international arrest warrant this week. The action by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court would limit Qaddafi’s options if he seeks refuge in another country.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in an e-mailed statement that tomorrow he will request arrest warrants for three Libyan individuals suspected of murder and persecution. He didn’t name them.

NATO extended its bombardment of Qaddafi’s forces and said its jets have “significantly” hindered the Libyan leader’s ability to attack civilians in recent days.

“We have taken out a significant part of Qaddafi’s war machine,” NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero told reporters May 13 in Brussels. “We can see the effect across Libya.”

The Libyan government said 11 Muslim clerics were killed during a NATO airstrike on May 13 in the eastern oil town of Brega, the Associated Press reported. NATO said it hit a command and control center.

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