The West calls for reforms, Bashar sends in the tanks

Guest post by DaveM

The international community has called on Bashar al Assad to respect Syrians’ human rights. He responded by sending in the tanks and besieging the coastal towns of Benyas, Baida and the southern town of Daraa.

That’s what you do when you’re the head of the Ba’ath Party. It’s what his father did. It’s what his uncle did.

Al Arabiya, 12th April:

“The White House has condemned what it described as the disgraceful repression of demonstrations in Syria, and renewed its call to president Bashar al Assad to respect the rights of Syrians. Six Syrian [human] rights organisations have also condemned the attacks on an army unit near the coastal town of Benyas two days ago. They also requested that the Government uncovers the identities of the assailants.

“At the same time, the sieges enforced by the security forces on the towns of Daraa and Benyas are continuing and eyewitnesses have said that heavy gunfire was heard in the nearby villages of Beida and Beit Janad.

“The people of the town of Benyas are in a state of suspense and apprehension following the days of the storm. Most of the townspeople are confined to their homes in anticipation of the next steps which will be carried out by the security forces who are currently enforcing a siege of the town having surrounded it with their tanks.

“With an official media blackout in place, news agencies have forwarded reports from eyewitnesses that the electricity and communications have been cut off to sections of the town, and that the townspeople are suffering from a shortage of bread.

“In the nearby villages of Beida and Beit Janad residents said that incursions into some homes and [the sound of] heavy gunfire took place at dawn on Tuesday.

“In Daraa, this footage appeared on a Syrian opposition website which said that it’s footage of the security forces after they entered the Omari mosque. And after the townspeople’s shouts which rang out here in the previous days (‘God! Syria! Freedom!’) now the security forces’ shouts are ringing out (‘God! Syria! Bashar!’)

“Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian security forces of obstructing ambulances, preventing them from getting to Daraa’s wounded following last week’s protests.

[Chants of what sounds like ‘With our souls, our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Benyas’]

“Despite that, thousands of the residents of Jasim, a village close to Daraa, demonstrated in the streets in support of the people of Benyas and demanding freedom, dignity and calling for the breaking of the siege of the towns which the security forces have cordoned off.

“Thousands of Kurdish demonstrators from the northeastern town of Kobar took to the streets calling for democracy and for the release of those detained.

“The sieges enforced on both Derra and Benyas along with the possibility of an assault by the security forces on the towns has pushed human rights activists into calling for more demonstrations in other towns in support of the besieged.

“At the same time the Damascus Declaration has been calling for help from the General Secretary of the Arab League [Amr Mousa] demanding that he intervene to impose sanctions on the Syrian government, which is insisting that what’s taking place is the result of an foreign conspiracy.”

Al Jazeera, 11th April:

[Chants of ‘The people of Syria are one!’]

“In the heart of Damascus, specifically inside the grounds of its university, dozens of students cried out for freedom in Syria. Students in the faculty of science organised demonstrations and these are the first of their kind at the University of Damascus. The cries of the students were no different from those shouted out during the demonstrations which took place in Syria’s other towns and cities, and Daraa was not forgotten either.

[Shouts of ‘With our souls and blood we sacrifice ourselves for you Daraa!’]

“As for Syria’s coast, the port town of Benyas is still cut off from the rest of the world after the security forces closed the roads leading to it and encircled the town, and this took place yesterday [10th April].

“The world’s media is absent from the field unable to report what’s happening there, however eyewitnesses spoke of the conditions. They also stated that since yesterday [10th April] the electricity supply has been cut off and that the army has entered the town taking up positions around important installations along with setting up checkpoints both inside and around Benyas.

“Sheikh Anas Alaerot, professor of Sharia in Benyas, speaking by phone: [note: I can’t quite hear him clearly]: ‘The situation in Benyas is really bad, there are random arrests, they’re even arresting boys of 10, 13 and 15 years old. Now the telephone landlines are still cut. There’s no bread in Benyas, there isn’t any bread in Tartus. Today early morning, tanks and armed vehicles entered and encircled Benyas. There’s a plan [by the army]… to storm Benyas, God only knows. Therefore I ask that the Arab states and the international community to take a concern in this [i.e. do something].’

“According to local activists Sunday’s events in Benyas resulted in the deaths of four civilians who were shot by the security forces and gunmen dressed in civilian clothes who are known as the ‘shabeeha’. In addition to this dozens of others were wounded.

“At the same time the Syrian state media spoke of nine soldiers who were killed in an ambush which was set up between Tartus and Latakia by armed men targeting army patrols.

“In Syria the lit fuse of protests hasn’t yet been cut and nor has yesterday’s reiteration by the Syrian president that the country is progressing down the road of reforms convinced the protesters.

“Not long after Assad’s speech protesters took to the streets of Muadammia in the countryside surrounding Damascus and demanded freedom and reform along with the release of those detained in Syria’s prisons– including activist Hassan Sheikh and prominent cleric Aymad adDeen arRashiid.

“There was footage put on the Internet which is said to show co-operation between the security forces and the “shabeeha” [gunmen] which took place in Duma.

“In Duma, which was also the setting of protests demanding freedoms and reform, there emerged more footage of demonstrations taking place. This time this time there was a variation in the slogans.

[Shouts of ‘The people want to overthrow the regime!’]

“The regime says that these sorts of demonstrations are part of a foreign conspiracy on Syria.

“News agency AP reported from a Syrian official that the Syrian president met with the families of the 12 people who were killed on Friday in Duma and listened to their demands. According to the official the most prominent of their demands was to combat corruption.

“Assad also informed the families of his orders to free the 191 people of Duma who were arrested last week during the protests which took place in the town.”

Al Jazeera English reports that the Damascus Declaration have put the death toll at 200 and that:

Iran’s foreign ministry… termed anti-government protests in Syria a Western plot to undermine a government that supports “resistance” in the Middle East.

“What is happening in Syria is a mischievous act of Westerners, particularly Americans and Zionists,” Ramin Mehmanparast, a spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The Washington Post reports that along with the electricity and phone lines being cut food deliveries to the town Baida have also been halted. It sheds light on what’s likely to have been behind the deaths of the soldiers

Malath Aumran, 26, an activist who communicated with Baida residents over the Internet despite intermittent service, said that ambulances were blocked from retrieving the wounded and sometimes targeted by gunfire and that some injured people avoided local hospitals for fear of being arrested by security forces.

In a sign that some members of the security apparatus are sympathetic to the anti-government demonstrators, Aumran also cited reports that some soldiers had disobeyed orders to fire at protesters and that they themselves were killed.

Graphic footage has also surfaced showing snipers firing on civilians in Daraa on 8th April.

Throughout the bloodshed Syrian State tv has been constantly broadcasting this:

I received an email from a Syrian friend who’s working abroad. He wants to know why it appears that everybody is covering for this regime– a regime which he was under the impression was universally despised.

What do I tell him? Something like this?

Hey Rashid (not his real name), yes it’s true your fellow countrymen are being gunned down in the streets and your coastal towns are under siege with the people running out of food and water.

However don’t expect a flotilla from us anytime soon, as you Syrians just don’t fit the narrative. Nobody really gives a monkeys about you guys. At best you’re an embarrassment, an inconvenience upsetting our ill-informed comfortable myths about the Middle East, with Israel, the US and Western-backed dictators as the source of all its problems.

Why did you lot have to go and complicate everything?

Plus your president isn’t really a ruthless dictator, he isn’t the son of Hafiz al Assad and brother of Maher, he’s a well-meaning reformer. It’s just that his hands happen to be tied.

After all he listens to Phil Collins and Faith Hill on his iPod, he’s soft-spoken and looks European. Plus he has a very pretty wife who’s from London where he lived for a while. Hey, don’t you read Vogue?

So everything’s going to be just fine.


Because that’s how the picture looks from here.