Syrian tank and troop units push into Hama


SYRIAN TANKS and troops have advanced to the centre of the restive city of Hama as many residents reportedly braved shelling and machine gun fire to seek refuge in nearby villages.

Hospitals are said to have been inundated with casualties following a violent weekend that left at least 55 dead and perhaps double that number in Hama alone.

While opposition activists have promulgated videos purported to show protesters being attacked in the streets, state television broadcast footage of men armed with shotguns, staves and knives and one with an AK-47 rifle among demonstrators said to have been taking part in rallies in Hama.

During demonstrations following Ramadan prayers late on Monday night, 24 people, including 10 in Hama, were slain and 150 wounded, stated Rami Abdul-Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He said 1,618 civilians and 374 security personnel have died since the revolt began in mid-March. The government disputes these figures.

Activists also say that 12,000 have been arrested and 3,000 “disappeared” over this period.

The offensive appears to be designed to prevent the escalation of protests during Ramadan when large crowds assemble at mosques after breaking the daytime fast.

The crackdown has elicited strong international condemnation of the regime which regards the protests as a threat to its existence and appears to be unresponsive to pressure.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was set to meet US-based Syrian opposition activists and representatives of the Syrian-Amercan community “to discuss the urgent situation” in the country.

But US joint chiefs of staff chairman Adm Mike Mullen made it clear that the US would not “get involved in this”. France has followed Britain’s example by announcing that no military intervention is contemplated. Beijing and Moscow have argued that such action could destabilise Syria.

Italy has recalled its ambassador and urged other EU countries to follow suit, but their governments prefer, for the time being, to keep their diplomats in Damascus in order to monitor events. The EU has imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on five people, including defence minister Ali Habib and internal security chief Tawfiq Younes.

Four members of the UN Security Council– Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – have tabled a draft resolution condemning the Syrian government’s escalation. The assembly has been meeting in closed session with the aim of overcoming the reluctance of Russia, China, Brazil, South Africa and India to approve such a resolution.

During a visit to India, Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad called on New Delhi to use its influence on the assembly to block the western drive for a resolution. “What we expect India to do is not to allow western countries to use the UN as a forum to support terrorism, to support extremism, to support the killing of innocent people.”

A presidential statement, a weaker measure than a resolution, could be an alternative.