Syrians defy army to show solidarity with besieged city


THOUSANDS OF Syrians yesterday defied troops and tanks to join “Friday of Rage” rallies staged in solidarity with the besieged city of Deraa.

A Syrian human rights group claimed last night that 42 people had been killed by security forces yesterday, many of them nearby villagers attempting to approach Deraa.

Five people were reportedly killed or wounded in the port of Latakia. Democracy demonstrators also marched in the central cities of Homs and Hama, the coastal town of Baniyas, and the Kurdish town of Qamishli in the northeast, as well as the Saqba suburb of the capital.

In central Damascus a gathering of 400-500 was quickly dispersed by security men, while roads from restive suburbs were closed to prevent protesters from entering the city.

YouTube showed video images of demonstrators in Homs addressing President Bashar al-Assad with the chant: “We don’t love you! Bye, bye Bashar! We will see you in The Hague!”

In Deraa, the epicentre of the protests, residents said snipers were on rooftops firing at people who tried to leave their homes. An army spokesman stated that four soldiers were killed and two kidnapped when their post was attacked by armed men. Seven civilians were also reported killed.

Busloads of supporters from neighbouring towns and villages were prevented from reaching the city, which has been locked down since Monday without electricity and communications.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood – which had until yesterday refrained from outright involvement in the protests – accused the regime of genocide and urged citizens to resist the regime. “God created you free; do not let the tyrants keep you in slavery. Cry with one voice for liberty and dignity.”

The group denied government allegations that the protests were inspired by the brotherhood or organised by radical fundamentalists called Salafis.

However, Jordanian cleric Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi insisted Muslims were obliged to protest and said the ousting of the secular Baathist regime would lead to the imposition of Muslim canon law, Sharia, in the Sunni majority country. Sheikh Maqdasi was the spiritual guide of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a slain leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq

The brotherhood has hesitated to give open backing to the protests because 30 years ago Syrians faced a brotherhood revolt that culminated in a bloody battle between the army and brotherhood fighters who had gone to ground in the old quarter of Hama. Thou- sands died in the assault and an historic area was devastated.

One of the most influential activist Facebook sites, Syrian Revolution 2011, is administered from Sweden by a brotherhood member. Most other sites are secular.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that 453 civilians and 51 soldiers have died during six weeks of unrest. However, the military said 78 members of the security forces and 70 civilians had been killed.

In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council voted to condemn the violent crackdown and called for a mission to investigate human rights violations in Syria. However, the vote was not unanimous.