34 Killed in Syria Amid Calls for Assad to Step Down
Protesters in Syria dubbed today “Friday of the Children of Freedom”: According to Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, at least 30 children have been killed so far in the protests that began in mid-March with the arrest of teenagers for writing anti-government graffiti in the southern city of Dara’a. But even as President Bashar al-Assad makes concessions, the latest being the release on Wednesday of hundreds of political prisoners and a call for a “national dialogue, government forces continue to fire at unarmed protesters.
In Hama — where, in 1982, at least 10,000 died in a brutal crackdown by Assad’s late father, Hafez al-Assad — 34 were killed as 50,000 took to the streets following Friday prayers in one of the biggest demonstrations yet. Thousands are also reported to have demonstrated in the capital of Damascus and in its suburbs, and in other cities and towns. Even in Dara’a, where a military curfew has been imposed, activists reported that hundreds marched and chanted “No dialogue with killers.”
The central town of Rastan, which was besieged with tanks and troops earlier this week along with the town of Talbisa, saw “scores” more killed today by random shelling and sniper fire from rooftops, says the BBC.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that President Assad’s legitimacy has “nearly run out” and stopped just short of demanding that he step down. Clinton also spoke of a “lack of international consensus” about how Assad can move forward, says Al-Jazeera:
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, has demanded “more ambitious and bolder” action from Syria. “I fear that it might already be too late,” he told France Culture radio.
Turkey, while not dismissing the decree outright, also asked for deeper change.
At a conference, “Conference for Change in Syria,” in the Turkish city of Antalya, hundreds of Syrian activists from around the world — including some who had managed to cross the Syrian border — called for Assad to step down. From CNN:
“What would post-Assad Syria look like? That’s the $50 million question,” said Amr Al-Azm, a Syrian-American history professor from Shawnee State University in Ohio. “We’ve been able to begin to address what the alternative would like like…we’ve provided a road map,” Al-Azm said.
Al-Azm helped draft the conference’s final communique, which has yet to be released. He is an unlikely revolutionary though.
Until last March, Al-Azm was a senior consultant on a project headed by Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma, aimed at reforming Syria’s culture ministry.
“What changed for me was the violence, the unprecedented level of violence that seemed random and almost uncontrolled,” Al-Azm said. “There are people that I actually know that have had their fingernails pulled out.”
Most of Syria’s Internet network and much of its phone service has been cut off, says the New York Times, in an effort by the government to stop activists from using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to communicate with each other and get the word out:
Oula Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist who helped organize a major conference of the Syrian opposition in Turkey this week, said the few protest videos posted Friday were the work of activists who had crossed Syria’s borders.
“In some of the areas on the borders, they’re using Jordanian lines and Lebanese lines,” Ms. Abdulhamid said. “They’re crossing the borders and going to Internet cafes. They’re doing such hard work just to get a few videos out. They’re risking their lives.
Some towns in central and southern Syria have had their water and electricity cut off.
Al-Jazeera reports that calls for protests arose after a video surfaced this past week on YouTube of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib’s beaten and tortured body. Hamza has “since become a symbol to Syria’s uprising and many people carried his posters during anti-regime rallies this week.”
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Photo of a protest in the Damascus suburb of Douma in April by By syriana2011 (Flickr: Syria Damascus Douma Protests 2011 - 30) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.