The Syrian government is engaged in “full-on warfare” against its own people, as JJ Harder, the press attache at the US embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus, told the BBC World Service as reported in the Guardian. On Sunday, the day before the holy month of Ramadan begins, “scores” — at least 100 — of Syrians have died after tanks and army troops entered the city of Hama from four directions and started firing randomly. Syrian activist group, the National Organisation for Human Rights, reported 136 killed in Hama and elsewhere in the country, in Deir Ezzor, in Al-Herak, in Daraa province where the uprising began in mid-March, and in Soran, north of Hama. Among the reported 100 killed in Hama was a 13-year-old boy.
Al Jazeera reporter Rula Amin says that the government seems to be anticipating an “escalation of the protest movement” during Ramadan and is acting preemptively; she noted that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad seems “adamant” on crushing the protests. Electricity and water lines had been cut prior to the dawn raids in Hama.
Al-Jazeera and other foreign media are barred from reporting inside the country, so accurate numbers of those killed and of what is going on are hard to verify.
Troops and tanks had been withdrawn from Hama after the weekend of June 3 when 70 were killed after Friday prayers. Since then, says the Guardian, Syria’s third-largest city with a population of around 800,000, has seen huge weekly demonstrations in al-Aasi square. In early July, the American and French ambassadors, Robert S. Ford and Éric Chevallier, visited Hama and were greeted with olive branches and roses; the Syrian government had highly criticized the visits. On July 11, both the American and French embassies in Damascus were attacked by pro-Assad supporters.
The ruthless crackdown, with snipers firing from rooftops and unarmed residents armed with wooden bats standing behind burning tires in the face of tanks, means that July 31 ” seems set to join 3 June and February 1982 — the year when Bashar’s father and former president Hafez quashed an armed Islamist revolt, killing at least 10,000 — as dates burnt on Hama’s collective memory,” says the Guardian.
As the New York Times reports, the Syrian government’s state new agency, offered an entirely different account:
It said dozens of gunmen had ascended rooftops and were “shooting intensively to terrorize citizens,” the Syrian state news agency SANA reported. It said insurgent groups had set fire to police stations, vandalized public and private property and set up roadblocks and barricades.
The version of events echoed the government’s long-standing contention: that it faces an armed uprising led by militant Islamists and backed by foreign countries. This time, it said armed men carried guns and rocket-propelled grenades, though not a single weapon was seen in the streets when a New York Times reporter visited this month….
Mr. Harder, the embassy spokesman, called the account “nonsense.” “They keep talking about armed gangs, but there is one armed gang in this country and it is the Syrian government itself,” he said.
Al Jazeera also reports that Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir, head of the main Baqqara tribe in the restive Deir ez-Zor province, was arrested on Saturday. Described as a “prominent figure in the campaign against President al-Assad in the region,” al-Bashir had told Reuters shortly before his arrest that he was “striving to stop armed resistance to a military assault on the provincial capital of Deir ez-Zor and to convince inhabitants to stick to peaceful methods.” Deir ez-Zor (the capital and the province have the same name) is an oil hub but also one of Syria’s poorest provinces.
Despite the crackdown, residents throughout Syria have vowed to keep up the pressure on Assad, says the New York Times, by “bringing even more protesters into the streets after nightly prayers during Ramadan.”
The video below shows tanks in the streets of Hama and a truck set on fire:
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Photo from a Syrian protest in Dublin by infomatique