Thursday 22 February 2018

VIDEO: Syrian forces renew bloody bombardment

Members of a pro-Islamic human rights group chant slogans, wave flags and carry signs calling for the removal of Syrian president Bashar al Assad and his regime during a demonstration outside the Syrian Embassy in Ankara, on August 1. Photo: Getty Images
Members of a pro-Islamic human rights group chant slogans, wave flags and carry signs calling for the removal of Syrian president Bashar al Assad and his regime during a demonstration outside the Syrian Embassy in Ankara, on August 1. Photo: Getty Images

Adrian Blomfield in Syria

Anti-government protesters in the Syrian city of Hama set up barricades and took up sticks and stones to defend themselves yesterday after one of the bloodiest days so far in the regime's campaign to quell an uprising now in its fifth month.

President Bashar al-Assad's tanks renewed the assault on Hama for a second day and the Syrian security forces were remorseless in their bombardment of the city, shooting at anyone who dared to venture out on to the streets and shelling the homes of those who did not.

The Assad regime's determination to pacify Syria's most restive city after almost five months of popular protests came despite international outrage at the killing of up to 95 people on Sunday.

The EU extended sanctions against Mr Assad's inner circle, imposing travel bans on five more military and government officials.

Even Russia, which has opposed western interference in its ally's affairs, called the actions in Hama "unacceptable" and demanded a halt. With the Kremlin's change of tone, a UN Security Council resolution against Mr Assad's government looked increasingly likely even if, four months into an uprising that has claimed more than 1,600 lives, such action is likely to be regarded by the opposition as a belated and fruitless gesture. The council met in emergency session last night.

The international community, for all its anger, seems increasingly impotent in the face of a dictator who has responded with contempt to all calls for restraint.

For the people of Hama, just as it did on Sunday, the violence began as dawn broke.

Yesterday was the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and many of Hama's residents showed their devotion by braving the obvious danger to head to mosques for dawn prayers.

As they emerged on to the streets, the shelling resumed. Three worshippers were struck down and killed, while a fourth was shot dead by a sniper as he got into his car, opposition activists said.

Terrify

But even those cowering at home were not safe as tank shells struck residential buildings in the suburbs of Al-Qousour and Al-Hamidiya.

"The tanks are firing at random," one resident said. "They don't care who they hit. The aim seems to be to kill and terrify as many people as possible."

For the people of Hama, the bloodshed reawakened memories of the destruction wrought by the president's father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, who put down an Islamist uprising in the city in 1982 with such violence that an estimated 20,000 people lay dead by the time it was over.

His son's wrath was felt in other parts of the country too, with tanks storming the eastern town of Albu Kamal. Nearby, in the city of Deir al-Zour, the death toll from an offensive over the weekend was revised upwards to 29.

The latest assaults appeared to be an attempt by the regime to keep protesters off the streets during Ramadan, when mosque attendance is traditionally higher, meaning that the opposition has a greater pool of people to call on for demonstrations.

Despite the ferocity of the regime's attacks, activists vowed their defiance would continue even as anger mounted over what was being perceived as a timid response by the West.

"It seems strange that the international community seems to care less about the people of Hama than the people of Benghazi," said Omar, an activist in Damascus.

"We are not asking for Nato. But we do want more boldness from the West. We want more sanctions. We want to see the Security Council declare Mr Assad's rule illegitimate. And we want to see him indicted by the International Criminal Court." (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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