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Casualties Mount as Syrian Protests, Crackdown Intensify


A banner is seen during a demonstration against President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian eastern town of Deir al-Zour, near the border with Iraq, June 17, 2011

A banner is seen during a demonstration against President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian eastern town of Deir al-Zour, near the border with Iraq, June 17, 2011

Thousands of Syrians turned out in over a dozen towns and cities Friday to protest the government’s ongoing crackdown on the country’s three month old protest movement. The protests come as government security forces continue operations on northern towns and in villages near the Turkish border. More than a dozen protesters are reported dead.

Witnesses say Syrian security forces fired on crowds of protesters Friday in the country’s third largest city of Homs, as they shouted slogans against the government. Video on Arab satellite channels showed demonstrators taking cover on a sidestreet amid heavy gunfire.

News agencies reported casualties after security forces fired on protesters in the coastal city of Banias. Other shootings took place in the desert town of Deir al-Zor and the southern city of Daraa.

Syrian Army tanks also deployed in several small villages close to the Turkish border Friday, while continuing a siege of Maaret al-Numan, which straddles the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo.

Witnesses told Arab satellite channels that residents of many border towns have fled and that government snipers are posted on roof tops.

Video footage of crackdown on Syrian protesters

In the town of Jisr al-Shaghour, witnesses complained to Arab satellite channels that security forces have arrested and beaten young men who returned after government forces retook the town early this week.

Syrian government TV, however, claimed that the army is treating residents well.

Old women and children complained about harsh living conditions as they waited inside Syria, close to the Turkish border. Nearly 10,000 refugees have entered Turkey in recent days and others remain along the border, afraid to return home.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged President Assad on Thursday to stop his brutal government crackdown:

“I again strongly urge President Assad and his authorities - his regime’s authorities - to stop killing people,” said the U.N. chief.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, says that the Syrian protest movement has reached a critical stage, and is unlikely to die down.

“It seems that we have reached the point of no return. There’s nothing that Assad can do that will cause the protest movement to subside," Khashan said. "The wall of fear has finally been broken and the fears of bloodshed and torture no longer seem to intimidate Syrians and prevent them from protesting.”

Both the United States and world other governments continue to condemn Syria’s crackdown. But it shows no signs of slowing.

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