Syria Sees Wave of Violence
Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)
BASSEM TELLAWI / AP
Pro-Syrian regime activists hold portraits of President Assad on Monday.
BEIRUT — Syrian activists say a wave of violence has killed more than 70 people in Syria in one day.
The activists say many of those killed on Monday are Syrian soldiers who came under attack by army defectors in the southern province of Daraa.
And in the restive city of Homs, the city morgue has received 19 corpses, all of them with bullet wounds.
The latest death toll comes from the Local Coordination Committees, an activist coalition, morgue figures and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has been trying to crush an uprising for the past eight months, but the movement has not abated. The UN estimates the regime’s military crackdown on dissent has killed 3,500 people so far in the past eight months. November is shaping up to be the bloodiest month of the uprising, with more than 250 Syrian civilians killed so far, activists say.
Although activists say the uprising has remained largely peaceful, with street protesters calling for the regime’s downfall, an armed insurgency also has developed in recent months targeting Assad’s military and security forces.
A resident near the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh in Daraa province said he heard more than four hours of intense gunfire. He asked that his name not be used for fear of government reprisals.
Another witness, who is an activist in the area, said he counted the bodies of 12 people, believed to be civilians killed by security forces’ fire.
“I saw two army armored personnel carriers, totally burnt,” he told The Associated Press by telephone. He also asked for anonymity out of fear for his safety.
The activist coalition called the Local Coordination Committees group identified at least 50 people who were killed on Monday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented 69 deaths, and said 34 of them are soldiers.
The latest violence appeared focused in the southern province of Daraa. Discrepancies in figures of those killed and injured are common, because the Syrian government has prevented independent reporting and barred most foreign journalists. Details gathered by activist groups and witnesses are key channels of information.
Assad is facing the most severe isolation of his family’s four-decade rule in Syria. On Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Assad should step down for the good of his country, the first Arab leader to publicly make such a call.
In the hours after the king’s comments were broadcast, three protesters scaled the fence at Jordan’s embassy in Damascus and ripped down the Jordanian flag. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Kayed said no one entered the embassy and there were no injuries.
Syria’s crackdown has brought international condemnation, but Damascus has generally been spared broad reproach in the Arab world. That changed Saturday, with a near-unanimous vote by the 22-member Arab League to suspend Syria.
Earlier Monday, Syria struck back at its international critics, branding an Arab League decision to suspend its membership as “shameful and malicious” and accusing other Arabs of conspiring with the West to undermine the regime.
The sharp rebuke suggests Damascus fears the United States and its allies might use the rare Arab consensus to press for tougher sanctions at the United Nations.
Assad says extremists pushing a foreign agenda to destabilize Syria are behind the unrest, not true reform-seekers aiming to open the country’s autocratic political system.