Syrian forces backed by tanks launched an attack on Deir al-Zour, shelling the eastern city a day after the Gulf Cooperation Council denounced the government’s “excessive use of force” against protesters.
Witnesses reported several casualties from the attack that began early today, said Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, who said it was too early to give an exact figure.
Syrian forces are “using tanks, machine guns and armored vehicles as they storm the city,” Merhi said in a telephone interview from Damascus. “It looks like the regime has ignored the GCC statement because it wants to resolve the crisis militarily.”
Protests against President Bashar al-Assad began in March after uprisings toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. The GCC, comprising Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, yesterday condemned the Syrian government for “excessive use of force, which has caused many deaths and wounded among the Syrian people.” The group called for “an immediate cessation to all acts of violence,” in a statement posted on its website.
The attack on Deir el-Zour came a day after tanks assaulted residential areas in Hama, the country’s fourth-largest city, which has been a center of protests against Assad. One civilian was killed in the shelling, Al Jazeera television said, citing activists. Syrian forces also targeted demonstrators in the Damascus suburb of Al-Muadamiya, in the northern province of Idlib, and in the port city of Latakia, it reported.
At least 300 people have been killed in Hama since July 30, according to Al Jazeera. Twenty-nine died Aug. 5 on the first Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, Ammar Qurabi, from the National Organization for Human Rights, said yesterday. The city has drawn the most force from the regime. It was the center of an uprising almost 30 years ago against Assad’s father, Hafez, which was crushed, with a death toll of 10,000, according to Human Rights Watch.
About 2,200 protesters have been killed in Syria since March, according to Merhi and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights. More than 500 members of the security forces have also been killed, Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told India’s News X channel. Most foreign journalists have been banned since the start of the revolt.
The UN Security Council hasn’t issued the resolution condemning violence in Syria that the U.S. and European allies have sought. It issued a statement Aug. 3 expressing “grave concern” at the deaths and human rights abuse.
U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed two days ago to consider additional steps to pressure the Assad regime and support the Syrian people, according to the White House.
Assad, who came to power in 2000, has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots, while acknowledging that the demonstrators have some legitimate demands. He issued a decree last week easing curbs on political parties and setting up a commission to regulate parliamentary elections.
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