Archive for April 6, 2011

#Israel uneasy over #Syrian unrest in Golan Heights

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By Bethany Bell BBC News, Golan Heights

Syria has fought several wars with Israel and has close ties with Iran, and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

The occupied Golan Heights are now seeing ripples from the protest wave sweeping the Arab world and many people are wondering what the uprising could mean for Israel.

Recently around 1,000 Syrian Druze, who live under Israeli occupation, took to the streets in the village of Boqata.

But they were not calling for change in Syria. They were out to back the Syrian president.

“We are supporting President Bashar al-Assad,” one demonstrator said. “We say to those who are against him: ‘No’.”

The Druze minority here has close religious and political links to the Syrian leadership.

But the Druze are not the only ones in this region who have an interest in whether or not Mr Assad survives.

Continue reading the main storyI think there will be violence between the two countries or maybe in the whole of the Middle East
Shefaa Abu JabalAnti-Assad protester 

Many people in Israel are unsettled by the unrest in Syria.

Earlier this year Israeli concerns were focused on its southern neighbour, Egypt – and the fate of the peace deal. Now Israelis are looking north to Syria – with whom there is no peace.


#Syria shuts casino, okays veil in schools

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DAMASCUS Syria‘s embattled secular authorities have closed the country’s sole casino and eased restrictions on the wearing of the veil by school teachers, a leading human rights activist said on Wednesday.

“They are trying to win over men of religion in a bid to sideline what is happening, even while there are protests every week when people leave the mosques,” after the main weekly Muslim prayers each Friday, said Syrian League for Human Rights chairman Abdul Karim Rihawi.

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Factbox: #Syria’s military: What does Assad have?

updated 4/6/2011 11:00:44 AM ET

AMMAN — Here are details of Syria‘s armed forces which experts say are dominated by senior Alawite officers, ensuring loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad.

Assad deployed the army in the main port city of Latakia last month and around the southern city of Deraa, where protests broke out nearly three weeks ago inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.

Syria’s armed forces total 295,000 active personnel, backed by heavy artillery, tanks, warplanes and a small navy. There are also 314,000 reservists. In a move to curb dissent last month, Assad shortened military conscription to 18 months from 21.


Numbers: 220,000 including conscripts. Assad’s brother Maher controls the Presidential Guard, the Republican Guard, and the Fourth Armoured Division which together with Syria’s secret police form the heart of the country’s security forces.

4,950 main battle tanks, 590 reconnaissance vehicles, up to 2,450 armoured infantry fighting vehicles, 1,500 armoured personnel carriers, 3,440 artillery pieces, up to 500 mortars and at least 4,100 surface-to-air missiles.


Numbers: 108,000. Made up of 8,000 Interior Ministry gendarmerie and 100,000 Workers Militia or People’s Army (Baath Party).


Numbers: 5,000 Bases located at Lakatia, Tartus and Minet el-Baida


Numbers: 100,000, including 30,000 reserves.

Combat capable aircraft: 555 Mig planes, including more than 150 fighters, more than 300 fighter-ground attack planes, 48 intelligence/surveillance planes, and 22 heavy transport planes.

Helicopters: 36 attack helicopters, 100 reconnaissance/transport helicopters, 20 transport helicopters.

Sources: Reuters/IISS Military Balance 2011




Syrian Rights Groups Raise Toll From Unrest #Syria (The New York Times)


Published: April 5, 2011

CAIRO — Human rights groups on Tuesday raised their estimates of the death toll from unrest in Syria, as protest organizers there continued their call for more demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

The tally has risen steadily in recent days as rights groups have struggled to document the number of dead from a government crackdown on dissent that began more than two weeks ago.

Wissam Tarif, the executive director of Insan, a Syrian rights group, said that at least 173 people had died in the unrest, including 15 in Douma, a working-class suburb northwest of Damascus, and 143 in and around Dara’a, the southern area where the protests began.

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, working with the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, said it had documented 123 deaths, including 22 in Douma. It said it did not have a number of dead in Dara’a.

Both groups said their figures were based on testimony from doctors, families of the dead and witnesses. It was impossible to verify their numbers.

Pro-democracy advocates have called for a week of renewed protests in honor of those who have died, labeling it “a week of martyrs.” The advocates are part of a Facebook group called The Syrian Revolution 2011, which has more than 100,000 members.

Documenting the dead in Syria is complicated by the omnipresence of security forces and the government’s refusal to release the bodies of many of those killed at demonstrations, said Mr. Tarif and Radwan Ziadeh, the director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. The authorities in Douma have released 15 bodies, Mr. Ziadeh said, but families of seven more men have been told by witnesses that they were killed at protests.

Gunshot wounds accounted for most of the dead, both organizations said.

Mr. Tarif said his organization documented four cases of people injured at protests in Douma who were arrested by security forces inside the civilian Hamdan Hospital. They were taken to Tashreen Military Hospital, where families said they were denied treatment and later died, Mr. Tarif said.

Call for United Nations Human Rights Council Special Session on the Human Rights Situation in the “Syrian Arab Republic’ #Syria

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As Human Rights non‐governmental organizations from all regions of the world, we express our serious concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria since the country’s security forces started using live ammunition against protesters on 18 March 2011. We call on the UN Human Rights Council to pursue its mandate by responding to the grave on‐going crisis by convening a special session as soon as possible.

Since 18 March 2011, Syrian security forces have used live ammunition to silence growing protests, almost entirely peaceful, calling for greater freedoms in the country. Scores of protesters – at least 100 ‐ have been killed, apparently by live ammunition fired by the security forces, in Dera’a, al‐Sanamayn, Latakia, Duma and elsewhere. Under international law and applicable standards, lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. The violent crackdown over Syria should be stopped immediately.

Security forces have also detained a number of journalists, activists, lawyers, and protestors who have reported on the protests or called for further protests, in an attempt to prevent anyone from documenting or criticizing the on‐going crackdown. Syrian human rights activists compiled a list of 326 individuals who have been detained since the beginning of March for participating or calling for demonstrations. While security forces released at least 131 of them, most remain held in incommunicado detention and without charge.

The current repression in Syria is taking place while authorities have a long record of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders and political activists, restrictions on free expression and arbitrary detention of journalists and bloggers, travel bans on activists, enforced disappearances and practices amounting to torture.

On 26 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “urged Syria to listen to the voices of its people who are rising up and demanding change in the country”. She also qualified as “particularly disturbing” the fact that the violent repression of protests by security forces continued the day after the Government had announced reforms. She finally called for the release of all detained protesters and human rights defenders, and for an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into those recent killings.

On 31 March, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA, President Bashar al‐Assad directed the establishment of a committee to “launch immediate investigations into all the incidents which claimed the lives of a number of civilians and military personnel in Dara’a and Latakia”. However, given the repeated failures over the years of the Syrian authorities to conduct independent and thorough investigations into numerous abuses, the limited scope of the investigation and the fact that the Syrian authorities have been blaming “armed gangs” for the violence, it is highly unlikely that any such investigation established by the Syrian authorities will be sufficiently independent, thorough and robust.

Given these concerns and the past human rights record of the Government of Syria, we believe the international community should pressure them to immediately end the bloodshed and to hold into account those responsible for any unlawful shooting against demonstrators.

The grave human rights abuses committed by the Syrian government in the context of the on‐going crackdown against protesters include violations of the right to life, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and freedom of movement. We therefore urge the Members of the UN Human Rights Council to convene as soon as possible a Special Session on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic.

The recent crackdown against protesters in Syria is taking place in the broader context of protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010. Some Governments have responded to these calls for reforms through increased violence. It is the responsibility of the Human Rights Council to remind all States that fierce repression of generally peaceful protests is contrary to international human rights obligations of these governments, and to take appropriate measures to help the victims and ensure accountability. In this context, the signatories of this letter reiterate the calls upon the Human Rights Council to also address the massive repressions in Bahrain, circulated on 18 March 2011, and in Yemen, circulated on 28 March 2011. We believe that these situations still warrant the full attention of the Human Rights Council.

#Syria reverses ban on Islamic face veil in schools

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Syria closed the country’s only casino Wednesday and reversed a decision that bans teachers from wearing the Islamic veil – moves seen an attempt to reach out to conservative Muslims ahead of calls for pro-democracy demonstrations.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad banned the niqab, the full Islamic face veil that reveals only a woman’s eyes, in July as part of his campaign to mute sectarian differences. Hundreds of primary school teachers who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools were transferred in June to administrative jobs, angering many conservative Muslims.

On Wednesday, Ali Saad, the education minister in the Syria’s caretaker government, said the teachers were now allowed to return to their jobs, according to the state-run news agency, SANA. He added that the ministry would discuss any new application by any teacher willing to go back to her work.

The billowing black robe known as a niqab is not widespread in Syria, although it has become more common recently – something that has not gone unnoticed in a country governed by a secular regime.

Also Wednesday, the Syrian state-run newspaper Tishrin reported that Casino Damascus has been closed because the practices of the club’s owners that “violate laws and regulations.” It did not elaborate.

Observant Muslims consider casino betting, lottery participation and sports betting to be particularly un-Islamic.


Syrian lawmakers plan to adopt major reforms in May, including an end to emergency rule, a politician close to the regime said Wednesday as rights bodies called for a probe into protest deaths.

“There will be an extraordinary (parliament) session from May 2 to 6 in which social and political laws will be adopted in line with the reforms desired by the head of state,” the politician told AFP.

“Among them is new legislation that will replace the current emergency law,” he said, adding that the proposed bill will be presented to the head of state before the end of the week, well ahead of an April 25 deadline.

According to the same source, al-Assad “intends to ask members of civil society for their input and then the government will adopt the draft law to present it to parliament early May”.

The lifting of emergency rule, in place since 1962, has been a central demand of anti-government protestors who have been calling for political reform and more freedoms since mid-March.

The politician did not specify whether laws governing the formation of political parties and media would be reviewed in this extraordinary session but MP Ahmad Munir confirmed that the session will take place.

“In general, they (sessions) last only one day but since this time we have been called in for five days, it is an indicator there will be draft laws to study and adopt,” he said adding the reforms would be published by state media.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch and six Syrian right monitors called on the authorities to investigate the fatal shooting of protesters in Douma, near Damascus, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

New-York based Human Rights Watch called on Syria’s president to “immediately order Syrian security forces to stop using unjustified lethal force against anti-government protesters”.

“For three weeks, Syria’s security forces have been firing on largely peaceful protesters,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in Paris has said 123 people were killed in anti-government demonstrations up to Friday April 1, when unrest struck Douma, a suburb north of Damascus.

At least eight people, but perhaps as many as 15, were killed that Friday in Douma when men in civilian clothes, suspected by witnesses of being from the security services, opened fire at demonstrators, HRW said.

Protesters in Douma cited by the HRW said they were chanting “peaceful, peaceful” when clashes broke out with riot police who resorted to teargas and beating demonstrators in an effort to snuff the Friday rally.

After two hours of confrontations, men in civilian clothes, whom protesters believed to be security service officers because they were positioned behind riot police, opened fired with Kalashnikovs at stone-throwing demonstrators.

An unnamed official told the official SANA news agency that an unknown “armed group” shot at both protesters and security forces from rooftops but provided no details about injuries to security forces.

“Instead of investigating those responsible for shootings, Syria’s officials try to deflect responsibility by accusing unknown armed groups,” Whitson said.

The rights body called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to “schedule a special session to address rights violations in Syria, including the unlawful use of force against demonstrators.”

It also called on the Syrian president to set up a committee to investigate the shootings in Douma, as he did for the killings of protesters in the cities of Daraa and Latakia, and to hold those responsible to account.

“The government should investigate each shooting, and hold accountable anyone responsible for the unlawful use of force,” said the rights group.

Six Syrian rights organisations said Wednesday in a joint statement they favoured forming a neutral investigative committee that includes human rights activists to identify the perpetrators of violence and bring them to justice.

In the southern agricultural town of Daraa, where dozens were killed and wounded in more than two weeks of anti-regime protests, shops remained closed for a second consecutive day, according to a human rights activists.

He said that Syrian authorities had distributed financial compensation of one million syrian pounds (21,000 dollars, or 14,700 euros) to the family of “each martyr” fallen during political unrest.

“Some accepted but the majority refused,” he said.

In Damascus, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu voiced his country’s backing for a Syrian government reform package on Wednesday when he met President Assad.

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Day and Night Syrian Protestors continue to rally

Days turn into nights and the nights turn into days, but this does not stop the Syrian Protestors from rallying. Below is a video of a rally taking place in Damascus. The crowd looks fired up and they are going full force.