Syrian forces raid houses of anti-regime activists


TROOPS WERE reported to be carrying out house-to-house raids to detain anti-regime activists as thousands of Syrians took to the streets yesterday to call for the overthrow of the government.

Operations focused on the central city of Hama, a protest hub, and towns in the Homs, Deraa and Idlib governorates.

The toll for the month of Ramadan given by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is 360 civilians and 113 members of the military. The total for the uprising has been put at 2,200 so far.

The regime’s crackdown has not, however, forced the external and internal opposition to unite and provide an alternative to the government, headed by President Bashar al-Assad. A proclamation by exiles meeting in Turkey of a national transitional council – modelled on the Libyan body – headed by Burhan Ghalioun, a sociology professor based in Paris, was promptly denounced by domestic activists.

Muhammad Rahal, head of the Syrian revolutionary council established by local co-ordinating committees, asserted: “Those who formed the [other] council are ghosts claiming to represent a large part of the Syrian people, while they have no relations whatsoever with the revolution. We are not part of the opposition abroad. The revolution has an internal body that decides its course.”

According to Joshua Landis of the authoritative Syria Comment blog, opposition figures are also disputing whether the revolt should take up arms or accept help from foreign powers. Muslim Brothers want Islam to be seen as the mainspring of the revolt, while Kurds are demanding recognition of their national and cultural rights. Activists in Syria remain suspicious of western powers, but some exiles seek intervention.

Washington has expanded its list of Syrian political figures targeted by an asset freeze and ban on business dealings to include foreign minister Walid Muallem, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Abdel Karim Ali.

“We are bringing additional pressure to bear . . . on three senior Assad regime officials who are principal defenders of [its] activities,” stated treasury undersecretary David Cohen.

Analysts argue such sanctions will have little impact, since high-level Syrian officials do not have holdings in the US and there is scant economic interaction between the US and Syria.

While the EU has added four individuals and three entities to the 50 people and nine firms already sanctioned, Italy has delayed measures to halt the import of Syrian oil and gas. Rome, hard hit by the ban, argues that existing contracts should remain in effect for 60 days.

Beirut has disassociated itself from last week’s Arab League statement calling on Damascus to end the crackdown on protesters “before it is too late”.

Foreign minister Adnan Mansour stated, “Lebanon stands by brotherly Syria and its stance in this regard.”

Syria rejected the league’s appeal and proclaimed a peace initiative, arguing that the organisation’s statement, not agreed by all 22 member states, violated its charter. League secretary-general Nabil al-Arabi is still waiting for clearance from Damascus to visit.