Syrian forces hit Hama after city's legal chief resigns in protest

 

SYRIAN SECURITY forces reportedly conducted fresh raids in restive Hama yesterday following a declaration by the city’s attorney general that he had resigned in protest at the crackdown on protests.

Residents said security police and shabbiha militiamen entered homes and made arrests in two districts of the city. Hama is a traditional hotbed of dissent and base for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, where at the beginning of August troops and tanks carried out a 10-day offensive.

In a YouTube video, attorney general Adnan Muhammad Bakkour read a prepared statement saying he had stepped down because security forces killed 72 prisoners at the city’s central jail on July 31st and that another 420 people were killed and buried in mass graves during the operation. If his resignation is confirmed, he will be the first high-profile official to have defected to the rebel camp during 5½ months of civil unrest.

Syrian official media accused satellite news channels and news organisations that broadcast the video of “professional bankruptcy” because they had ignored reports issued on Monday that Mr Bakkour had been kidnapped by seven armed men on his way to work.

Hama governor Anas Naem said: “The kidnappers forced the attorney general to present false information. The channels have become a partner in the terrorist crimes against innocent Syrian citizens.”

President Bashar al-Assad appointed Mr Naem after his predecessor was sacked for permitting large anti-regime protests in Hama, where a Muslim Brotherhood armed revolt was crushed by the president’s father in 1982.

Mr Bakkour denied he had been abducted and claimed he was “under the protection of rebel residents and in good health . . . I will give live statements soon once I leave Syria.”

The release of the Bakkour video coincided with the broadcast of footage by Syrian television of burned bodies of soldiers reportedly killed by brotherhood fighters in an attack on a military post in Hama and of a young man who “confessed” to involvement in the massacre by armed elements of 120 policemen and soldiers at Jisr al-Shaghour in June.

Analysts have suggested that ongoing military operations in Hama are aimed at finding Mr Bakkour or perpetrators of the attack on troops.

In his authoritative blog, Syria Comment, Joshua Landis admitted that it was “hard to know what is true” in these video clips.

Damascus’s refusal to grant visas to foreign journalists has prompted reliance on unconfirmed reports from opposition sources. Government statements are generally ignored.

Meanwhile, the European Union is said to have reached a deal on broadening sanctions against Syria to include a ban on the import of oil.

The compromise gives firms with existing contracts a deadline of November 15th to comply rather than the proposed date of October 30th.

The latest round of sanctions also includes withdrawal of technical assistance for European Investment Bank projects and targeting of individuals and companies supporting the regime, as well as those involved in its suppression of unrest.