Friday, August 12, 2011

DTN News - SYRIA UNREST: Syrian Forces Fire On Protests After Friday Prayers

DTN News - SYRIA UNREST: Syrian Forces Fire On Protests After Friday Prayers
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada / AMMAN, Jordan - August 12, 2011:

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces fired live ammunition at protesters coming out of a main mosque after Friday prayers in the besieged city of Deir al-Zor, witnesses said, as demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad resu

med elsewhere in the country.

"Military intelligence directed their AK-47s at the mosque, hitting the main air-conditioning unit, which caught fire. The whole neighborhood is echoing with the sound of bullets," said one witness, an engineer who lives near Harwil Mosque.

"Worshippers are running to take cover in alleyways," he said by phone.

A resident of Hama also said protesters came under fire in the central Syrian city. Hama was stormed by the army at the start of the month in an assault which killed more than 100 people, according to activists and rights groups.

British-based activist Rami Abdel Rahman also reported clashes in Hama and said tens of thousands of people were protesting in the city of Homs.

"We will only kneel to God!" chanted protesters.

Syrian authorities have barred most independent media, making it difficult to verify events on the ground in the unrest, among a series of popular revolts against repressive power elites across the Arab world this year.

Assad's forces have intensified assaults on towns and cities across the country since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan to try to subdue mounting dissent against the ruling family, despite threats of new U.S. sanctions and calls from Turkey and Arab nations to end attacks on dissenting civilians.

Activists said at least 19 people were killed by Syrian forces in raids near the Lebanon border and in the country's Sunni Muslim tribal heartland Thursday. Assad's family belongs to the minority Alawite sect that dominates Syria.

They say more than 1,700 civilians in all have been killed in the military crackdown on protests against Assad which broke out in March. Syria blames the violence on armed groups, who it says have killed 500 soldiers and police.


Another resident of Deir al-Zor said: "Assad wants to finish off the uprising before international pressure is becoming too much for him. But people have gone out of almost every major mosque in Deir al-Zor, meters away from tanks that occupy every main square and roundabout."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sanctions against Syria's vital oil and gas industry were needed to put pressure on Assad. She called on Europe and China, main foreign players in Syria's energy sector along with Russia, to do more in imposing sanctions on Syria.

Clinton, in a CBS interview, also said an organised, united opposition was needed in Syria.

Syria's oil industry, with which the ruling family has close links, generates most of the state's hard currency from crude output of 380,000 barrels per day.

The global campaign group Avaaz urged European nations on Friday to impose immediate restrictions on purchases of Syrian oil to "dry up" funding of Assad's security services. It said over 150,000 Avaaz members had signed a petition to that effect.

But there is little prospect of Western states putting teeth into the sanctions on Assad by targeting Syria's oil because of vested commercial interests against doing so.

Asked why the United States had not called on Assad to step down, Clinton said Washington had been "very clear" in its statements about Assad's loss of legitimacy, and wanted other nations to add their voices.

Wednesday Washington imposed sanctions on Syria's largest bank and its biggest mobile telephone company, controlled by Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf. The next day U.S. ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford said more sanctions would follow if the Syrian authorities did not halt the violence.

In addition to the Friday protests, nightly Ramadan prayers, or "tarawih," which follow the breaking of the fast, have given more Syrians a focus for daily protest marches against 41 years of Assad family supremacy.

Regional powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all applied pressure on Assad to stop the violence.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned Assad not to leave reforms until it is too late in a letter delivered to the Syrian president earlier this week, Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency reported Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan spoke Thursday and agreed Syrians' demands for a transition to democracy must be met, the White House said.

Diplomats in New York quoted United Nations deputy political affairs chief Oscar Fernandez-Taranco as saying Wednesday that nearly 2,000 Syrian civilians had been killed since March -- 188 since July 31 and 87 on August 8 alone.

Syria says 500 soldiers and police have died in the bloodshed, which it blames on armed gangs and terrorists.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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