Syria: the death toll rises and so do the lies

Guest post by DaveM

On Friday there were demonstrations all over Syria calling for freedom. Security forces, including rooftop snipers, responded by firing live rounds on the protesters.

Yet news reports have been sporadic and there’s not been quite the same level of coverage as there has been on Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Gaza.

This could partly be due to the lack of access afforded to journalists, but it could be due to a reluctance to press too hard on a regime which has defined itself as being the last fortress of Arabism. Mubarak kept the peace treaty with Israel, and Gaddafi turned his back on pan-Arabism and adopted pan-Africanism. However Assad like Saddam never “sold out”.

Maybe deep down this One Nation One People One Language fantasy is still something the Arab world can’t quite let go of, and Assad like his father knows the strength of the narrative and how to play it. As Michael Young writes at The Lebanon Daily Star:

The hypocrisy of Al-Jazeera, the most popular Arab satellite station, is especially worthy of mention. In Egypt, Libya or Yemen, for instance, the station devotes, or has devoted, long segments allowing viewers to call in and express disapproval of their leaders alongside their high hopes for the success of the revolution. In Syria, nothing.

The reality is that the political allegiances and the self-image of Al-Jazeera make this thorny. Syria is part of the “resistance axis,” and the downfall of its regime would only harm Hezbollah and Hamas. The same lack of enthusiasm characterized the station’s coverage of Lebanon’s Independence Intifada against Syria in 2005. It is easy to undermine Ali Abdullah Saleh, Moammar Gadhafi, and Hosni Mubarak, each of whom in his own way is or was a renegade to the Arabs. But to go after Bashar Assad means reversing years of Al-Jazeera coverage sympathetic to the Syrian leader. Rather conveniently, refusing to do so dovetails with the consensus in the Arab political leadership.

However Friday’s bloodshed was reported by Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, with Syrian State TV covering it in its own sick way.

Al Arabiya – 30 Killed in Daraa confrontations.

Chants of “The People want to overthrow the regime!”

“Protesters returned to the streets of a number of Syria’s cities demanding freedom. The largest of the demonstrations was arranged in the southern town of Derra with the participants emerging from 3 of the towns mosques (after Friday prayers). Confrontations took place between the demonstrators and the Syrian security forces, and the protesters burned down the Ba’ath party building.

“Human rights activists told news agency AFP that members of the security forces in civilian clothes opened fired on the demonstrators to disperse them which led to casualties. According to France Press one of the dead was a member of the the security forces.

“Syrian Government Television broadcast footage of what it described as saboteurs and infiltrators opening fire on demonstrators and security forces in Daraa.

“Demonstrations also took place in the Kurdish city of Qamishli in Syria’s northeast. The protests started off from the Qasmo mosque and gathered at the Hilallia area. The demonstrations commenced the day after Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s offer of giving citizenship to more than half a million Kurds. However the protesters reiterated during the marches that citizenship does not mean freedom.

“Demonstrations demanding freedom also took place in Tartus with hundreds of people taking part.

“In the coastal town of Latakia hundreds of people took part demonstrations shouting out slogans against the authorities.

“Demonstrations in Homs were followed by clashes between security forces and protesters with the opposition speaking of a number of deaths and injuries occurring after the security forces used live bullets to disperse the demonstrators. This according to Reuters.”

Al Jazeera – Number of deaths in Syrian towns rises.

“Friday halted its journey in Syria. This time according to those [taking part in it], it’s the Friday of Steadfastness. And as expected, after Friday prayers demonstrators took to the streets in a number of Syrian cities raising slogans calling for freedom and reform.

“As was the case in the past weeks eyewitnesses and the Internet were sole sources of information on what was taking place.

“The southern town of Daraa was where most bloodshed occurred with tens of people being killed and injured according to eyewitnesses.

“Eyewitnesses in Daraa spoke of a lot of people being killed by sniper fire and by the security forces. Whereas official sources spoke of armed groups opening fire on both demonstrators and the police at the same time.

“Syrian State TV which broadcast footage of masked men opening fire, stated that 19 policemen were killed in Dara along with 75 others injured.

“In Homs, where on Thursday Bashar Al Assad had sacked the mayor, there were reports of violent clashes, shots being fired and the occurrence of injuries with the numbers in the tens.

“In the majority-Kurdish city of Qamishli, citizens went into the streets in solidarity with Syria’s other regions. And some of them were saying that just because thousands of Kurds had been given Syrian citizenship this hasn’t ended their suffering.

“And for the first time since the outbreak of the protests in Syria people from the coastal city of Tartus went into the streets shouting their support for the people of Daraa.

“Even disregarding the size of the demonstrations and their dissimilarity between one city and the next, the names of the Syrian cities and regions were mentioned (or recalled) in succession one after another– in Latakia, Beniyass, Hama, Idlib and also in the suburbs and surrounding countryside of Damascus such as Till, Douma, Harasta, Muadalia extending to the border regions such as Til Khalaq near Lebanon and Bou Kamal beside Iraq.”

Syrian State TV news being unable to deny that their own citizens were being murdered resorted to concocting a bizarre lie involving infiltrators and mysterious armed gangs opening fire on unarmed police officers, as if Ba’athist-controlled Daraa had transformed overnight into Black Hawk Down meets Dixon of Dock Green.

“Official Source: 19 members of the security forces and police were martyred in Daraa when armed groups opened fire on them.

“The Interior Ministry urges Daraa citizens not to shelter armed groups and to inform on them as quickly as possible.

“Eleven Palestinians were martyred and tens of others injured in air and ground bombardments on the Gaza Strip.

“The main news bulletin from the news centre Damascus, welcome. Welcome to the news.

“An official source from the Interior Ministry reported that the number of members of the security forces and police who were martyred rose to 19 with 75 injured after armed groups opened fire on them in Daraa today.

“The source also explained that following Friday prayers groups of people were making their way from the Omari mosque towards Daraa when armed groups opened fire on them and also on the police and security forces– who were unarmed.

“This led to a number of them being killed and tens of them suffering from injuries as all members of the police and security forces were under strict instructions that when carrying out their duties in populated areas they were not to carry weapons.

“The source also made clear that the people of Daraa expressed their grievances on this situation which was a result of armed groups causing chaos, terrifying the residents and setting fire to public property.

“The following report uncovers how some of the armed groups managed to infiltrate their way into the demonstrations and carry out acts of killing and terror”.

Except it doesn’t. It just repeats the same BS only in more detail with added moralising and sanctimoniousness.

Just when it couldn’t get any worse, following Friday’s bloodshed, on Saturday the authorities upped the ante by shooting at those burying their dead.

And the Interior Ministry has threatened to crack down on further protests.

Meanwhile the EU has condemned the violence and has urged the Syrian Government to implement “meaningful reforms”

Except nobody appears to have told Catherine Ashton about the system of rule in Syria. It’s Ba’athism, it’s totalitarianism, it is incapable of reform.

I don’t understand what’s going on here. It looks as if Bashar al-Assad is getting a free pass.

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