Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Restive City a Test of Syrian Will

Syrian city resists deadly army offensive

Hama residents erect barriers to stop tanks re-entering – but say raids are widespread days after biggest anti-regime protest.
    Syria city resists deadly army advance
    A Syrian tank reportedly moves through Idlib province. Hama residents are resisting an army advance that has allegedly claimed 14 lives. Photograph: Al Arabiya/EPA
    Residents of Hama in Syria are resisting an army advance that has reportedly claimed 14 lives as violence returned to the flash-point city. Barriers have been erected at entrances Hama to stop tanks and armoured columns re-entering en masse, five days after the largest anti-regime demonstration yet seen in the four month Syrian uprising. But residents reported that the security forces had easily broken through the barriers and was conducting widespread raids. After a violent weekend at the start of June in which more than 70 people were killed, all security forces withdrew from the city of 800,000 in what demonstrators had viewed at the time as yielding to their demands. Raids started again soon after the mass rally that drew ire from Damascus and led to the president, Bashar al-Assad, sacking the area's governor. "The situation is bad – there is security on the streets and gunfire in several neighbourhoods," a Hama resident, who did not want to be names, told the Guardian. Doctors were appealing for blood donations as security forces and regime loyalists vandalised cars and broke into commercial shops, activists reported. Tensions between the city's mostly Sunni residents and the ruling Alawite elite have simmered since 1982 when Assad's father sent his army in to the city in a massacre that killed between 10,000-40,000 people and came to define his rule. "I don't think Hama's residents will let the authorities to retake the city," said Wissam Tarif, the head of human rights organisation Insan. "If they try, it could turn into a bloodbath." The foreigin secretary, William Hague, condemned the crackdown. "Violent repression in Hama will only further undermine the regime's legitimacy and raise serious questions about whether it is committed to the reforms it has recently announced," he said. "No meaningful political dialogue can take place while there is a brutal military crackdown." Hague repeated the UK's demand that Assad should reform or step aside, saying: "If the regime continues to choose the path of brutal repression, pressure from the international community will only increase." Diplomats in Damascus say the ongoing military crackdown is causing increasing damage to the regime. Despite official assurances that the economy is fine, Assad last month warned of the danger of economic collapse and state media has reported campaigns around the country to "support the Syrian pound".More...

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