Assad Regime continues to massacre the Syrians, Opposition groups demand Rights, Justice, and Freedom

By the CNN Wire Staff
April 27, 2011 2:22 p.m. EDT
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Daraa violence, defiance escalating

Terror reigned in the Syrian city of Daraa Wednesday as intermittent gunfire rang out overnight and snipers held their positions on rooftops, a witness said.

The situation “is worsening day after day” where the country’s uprising started, he said.

Nine people were killed by sniper fire Wednesday, and five were killed Tuesday, said the witness, who is not being identified for security reasons. Funerals were not taking place because the cemetery is occupied by security forces, he said.

The group Syrian Human Rights Information Link reported that at least 447 people have died since the uprising began last month. The group said the deaths include 17 people killed in Daraa earlier this week. While the vast majority of the people listed were apparently civilians, some of the dead are listed as members of the military or security forces.

CNN has not been granted access to Syria and cannot verify death tolls and witness accounts.

Mohsen, a witness in Daraa, said security forces have stormed homes and arrested people suspected of being protesters and sympathizers. There have been many mistaken identities, he said, adding that at least 12 people in his neighborhood of al-Kashef were arrested Wednesday.

 Dead bodies have remained in the streets for days because people — fearing sniper fire — have been afraid to pick them up and bury them, he said.

There is a severe shortage of medicine and food, even bread, Mohsen said. Since Sunday, stores have been closed; electricity, water and all mobile and landline communications have been shut off, he said.

Protests composed entirely of women took place in two neighborhoods Tuesday and Wednesday, Mohsen said. The demonstrators called on security forces to release their sons and husbands and stop the siege. President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces responded by shooting into the air to disperse them, the witness said.

Witnesses in Daraa and Syrian human rights activists say there has been tension among different units of the security forces, with some army senior commanders refusing to open fire on protests. Some witnesses even described instances of armed confrontation between different elements of the security forces. CNN could not independently verify such reports.

Mohsen described two such incidents. One took place Monday in the al-Mataar neighborhood in western Daraa where residents witnessed what appeared to be an exchange of fire between two military units. The other happened on Tuesday in the al-Jisr neighborhood. Shortly after that incident, ambulances came and picked up bodies, witnesses said.

In a video posted Wednesday on YouTube, a man who says he is in Banias states that the demonstrations are “to claim our rights, our justice, our freedom.” Complaining that the government refers to the protesters as terrorists, he says “it’s a big lie.”

“We are all brothers, we are all friends, we are all neighbors,” the man says of the Christians and members of different Muslim sects who live in Banias. In the video, hundreds of men can be seen walking by. “Why they get us? Why they fire at us when we make demonstration? Why they get people in Daraa? I ask why, and I want an answer.”

A group calling itself National Initiative for Change, which says it includes activists in Syria and elsewhere, vowed Wednesday that the “popular uprising” will eventually lead to the overthrow of al-Assad’s regime. The group issued a statement saying it had 150 signatures, including “150 politicians, civil society activists and human rights defenders” inside Syria, whose names were not being published for safety reasons.

But the Syrian government, which has described protesters as “armed criminal groups” and “terrorists,” said Wednesday that a member of an “extreme terrorist cell” confessed to “receiving money and arms to kill security forces and civilians.” State-run news agency SANA carried quotes from the man, named as Mustafa bin Yousef Khalifa Aiyash, saying that even 5-year-old children were armed in the effort.

The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Syria, published earlier this month, says that in 2010, “Courts systematically used ‘confessions’ extracted under duress as evidence, and defendants’ claims of torture were almost never investigated.”

The Syrian government has argued that citizens want security forces to arrest members of these groups, and that numerous weapons have been confiscated in the arrests. Several “martyrs” have been killed by these groups, the government said. “The Syrian TV reported that an extremist terrorist group was arrested in the coastal city of Jableh, which opened fire on citizens and destroyed public and private properties,” SANA reported Wednesday.

The United Nations Security Council was to be briefed Wednesday on the crisis in Syria in a private session, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations rejected Tuesday a call for an independent investigation into the reported killings of hundreds of demonstrators by government forces.

 “Syria has a government, has a state,” Bashar Jaafari told reporters at the world body. “We can undertake any investigation by our own selves, with full transparency. We have nothing to hide. We regret what is going on, but you should also acknowledge that this unrest and riots, in some of their aspects, have hidden agendas.”

Jaafari called al-Assad a reformer who has been working to effect change by issuing decrees that, among other things, lifted the decades-old emergency law and allowed peaceful demonstrations.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice called the violence wielded by the government of Syria “abhorrent and deplorable,” adding, “The outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end, and now.”

The Syrian government’s repeal of its emergency law and allowance for peaceful demonstrations “were clearly not serious, given the continued violent repression against protesters,” she said.

The United States is pursuing “a range of possible policy options,” Rice said, including the imposition of additional sanctions.

“The Syrian people’s call for freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and the ability to choose their leaders freely must be heard,” she said.

Rice accused al-Assad of “disingenuously blaming outsiders while, at the same time, seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by the Iranian regime.”

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director, Philippe Bolopion, called on the Security Council to “condemn abuses by the Syrian government, support an international investigation and sanction those ordering the shooting and torture of protesters.”

He called Syria’s campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council “a slap in the face to the victims of the current crackdown, and an embarrassment to those who have supported its candidacy.”

Razan Zaytouni, a human rights activist in Damascus, said “innocent people are killed now, including children and women.” Rejecting the government’s depiction of protesters, she said, “The only terrorists are those who are killing our people there now.”

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, a resident who asked to be referred to only as Rawwad said that, over the past several days, security personnel had been arresting people they recognized as members of the protest movement.

The Syrian protests — part of a wave of uprisings in the Arab world — began in Daraa last month following a crackdown by security forces on peaceful demonstrators protesting the arrests of youths who scribbled anti-government graffiti. Protesters have asked for freedom and regime reform, and public discontent with al-Assad’s government has mounted.

Activists also want the easing of the ruling Baath Party’s power and a law that would permit the establishment of independent political parties.

CNN’s Nada Husseini, Richard Roth, Anderson Cooper, Amir Ahmed, Arwa Damon, Rima Maktabi, Elise Labott, Amir Ahmed and Raja Razek contributed to this report.

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