2011-08-02

No break for Ramadan in Syria killings

The timing of the Syrian military forces' operation in Hama on Sunday sends "a very wrong signal," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

(Guardian, AP, AFP, Bloomberg, Euronews, CNN, BBC, Independent, The Irish Times, VOA, Scoop, Al Jazeera - 02/08/11; Reuters, RFE/RL, AFP, Euobserver, The Sofia Echo, Zaman - 01/08/11; AFP, AP, Hurriyet - 31/07/11)

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At least two dozen civilians were killed in the central city of Hama and several other towns in Syria Sunday (July 31st) night as part of the government forces' continuing crackdown on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, a rights group said on Tuesday.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that more than 150 people were detained for questioning after the evening prayers on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began Monday.

Media reports quoted him as saying that the 24 killed overnight included ten in Hama, six in the Damascus suburb of Erbin, three in the central province of Homs, two in the eastern border town of al-Boukamal, two in the coastal city of Latakia and one in Madamaiya near the capital.

Another activist told reporters that tens of people have been wounded in the security forces' latest attack against anti-government protestors.

The death toll since the start of the uprising on March 15th is estimated to be approaching 2,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Out of that total, more than 130 have reportedly been killed in the two days since Sunday, when the Syrian troops stormed Hama with tanks shelling residential areas in the country's fourth-biggest city with a population of 800,000 people.

The new onslaught against civilians on what some have described as one of the "deadliest days" in the nearly five-month long revolt in Syria sparked international condemnation, including from officials in Turkey and Bulgaria.

Speaking during a visit to Norway on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he was "appalled and dismayed" by the military's weekend operation in Hama.

"We strongly condemn this because the timing and the methodology of this operation were very wrong," Euronews quoted him as saying. "The timing, one day before Ramadan which is the month of peace in the Muslim world, is a very wrong signal."

Meanwhile, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said he was "shocked" by the events, particularly the use of tanks and heavy weapons against civilians there.

"The recent developments in Syria have deepened our already existing concerns. The footage from yesterday's events has horrified us," Turkish daily Zaman quoted the president as saying. "The use of heavy weapons in Hama against civilians has given me a deep shock."

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov also condemned the Assad forces' "unprecedented and terrifying" repression against Syrian civilians during Sunday's offensive, expressing Sofia's readiness to facilitate a dialogue between the government and opposition.

"Bulgaria, along with all EU countries, strongly condemns the violence and calls firmly for an immediate cessation," the minister said on Monday. "We expect a clear response from the Arab League and from Syria's neighbouring countries, which cannot remain indifferent to the tragic events in that country."

Meanwhile, the EU announced new sanctions against the Assad regime. Sources said that a further five government, military and intelligence figures have been added to a blacklist of 30 individuals and businesses, whose assets have already been frozen and have been banned from entering the 27-nation bloc.

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