Syrian tanks shell central city, Bedouin villages


SYRIAN TANKS were yesterday said to be shelling three districts of the central industrial city of Homs. Bedouin villages in the vicinity were also targeted, confirming information from a Homsi source that impoverished tribal communities have been involved in unrest in the area.

The unidentified source, quoted on the Syria Comment website, said, “The vast majority of Homs is against ‘the revolution’” which, he stated, is being staged by people “from two or three tribes”.

The military crackdown continued in the region of Deraa, the epicentre of the protests, where three people were reportedly killed in the village of Jassem.

Rami Abdel Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security sweeps were being carried out in the coastal city of Baniyas, encircled by troops. He said 270 people were released from detention and had signed an undertaking to stop protesting.

Al-Jazeera reported that black market arms dealers in neighbouring Lebanon were doing a brisk trade in automatic weapons which are being smuggled across the long, porous border into Syria, where gun ownership has been strictly controlled.

Some of the weapons could be destined to fight the regime, and some for self-defence in case the government falls. Amin Hoteit, a retired Lebanese army brigadier general, said most of the hot spots of the revolt are located near Syria’s borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, where arms are available.

President Bashar al-Assad was quoted by Syria’s independent al-Watan daily urging Syrians to co-operate with the government in order to ensure the reform process advances, and pledging that detainees would soon be freed. He made these remarks during a meeting with a delegation from the restive suburbs of Damascus, including Maadamiyeh which has been sealed off by the army while officers say troops are pursuing “armed gangs”.

Dr Assad’s cousin, businessman Rami Makhlouf, told the New York Timesthat the regime would not surrender. “We will sit here. We call it fight to the end... [Opponents] should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone.”

He is one of 13 people on whom sanctions have been imposed by the EU. Brussels is considering adding Dr Assad to the list. Between 620-880 people have been killed and 8,000-10,000 detained during eight weeks of unrest in the country.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged Dr Assad “to heed calls for reform and freedom and to desist from excessive force and mass arrest of peaceful demon- strators”. He expressed disappointment that UN teams had not yet visited Deraa and nearby Palestinian refugee camps although Dr Assad had said access would be granted.

The UN Relief and Works Agency that looks after Palestinian refugees has suspended operations for 50,000 registered refugees in camps in the Homs and Deraa areas due to unrest. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said “getting supplies from Damascus to these areas” is difficult and “many people are not able to access these services because of the [precarious] security situation.”