Monday 19 February 2018

Syrian forces kill 30 as they open fire on protesters

Elizabeth A Kennedy in Beirut

Syrian security forces opened fire yesterday on thousands of protesters demanding regime change, killing at least 30 people.

The carnage was yet another sign that President Bashar al- Assad is prepared to ride out a wave of rapidly escalating international outrage.

The UN said last night it would be sending a team into Syria to investigate. The European Union is expected to place sanctions on Syrian officials next week.

Both are significant blows to Mr Assad, a British-educated, self-styled reformer, who has tried to bring Syria back into the global mainstream over his 11 years in power.

In Washington, state department spokesman Mark Toner said the US was pressing the Syrian government to cease "violence against innocent citizens, who are simply demonstrating and trying to state their aspirations for a more democratic future".

Yesterday's protests spanned the nation, from the capital to the Mediterranean coast and the arid northeast. The bloodshed was the latest occurrence in what has become a weekly cycle of mass protests followed by a swift and deadly crackdown.

Pressure is mounting on Mr Assad, who insists the unrest is a foreign conspiracy carried out by "terrorist groups". According to human rights groups, more than 580 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since the revolt began.

"What it looks like here is a systematic attack on a civilian population, a political decision to shoot and kill unarmed demonstrators, and that could very well be a crime against humanity," Human Rights Watch counsel Reed Brody said.

Syrian authorities have also detained Riad Seif, a leading opposition figure and former lawmaker, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Amnesty International said at least a dozen prominent rights and political activists in Syria have been forced into hiding after receiving direct threats of violence and arrests from authorities.

Irish Independent

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