At least 10 dead in Syria amid sweeping arrests
DAMASCUS — Security forces on Wednesday killed at least 10 people and made sweeping arrests, activists said, as Western and Arab countries sought a special UN session on Syria’s crackdown on dissent.
President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, met with the central committee of the ruling Baath party, in power since 1963, for the first time since protests erupted in mid-March against his regime, the state-run SANA news agency reported.
A defiant Assad told the committee that Syria “will remain strong and resilient” despite international pressure, adding that he had promised reforms not because of outside pressure but “because Syrians were convinced of their necessity.”
Since April, the embattled president has tried to quell the growing protests, first ending a state of emergency in force since 1963, and more recently authorising political parties alongside the Baath party.
A key demand of the opposition movement has been the removal of Article 8 of the constitution which stipulates that the Baath party is the sole “leader of state and society.”
But in defiance of growing international condemnation, hundreds of Syrian security services raided homes in the Mediterranean port city of Latakia on Wednesday, activists said.
The Britain-based-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 700 members of the security services took part in operations in the city’s southern district of Ramel, arresting people on lists.
An activist in the city said that security forces used live fire Wednesday to disperse some 2,000 protesters outside the city’s Al-Hussein mosque, but did not report any immediate casualties.
In the central city of Homs, nine people, including two people gunned down outside a mosque in the city’s Wa’ar district and a civilian shot dead by a sniper in the city’s Armenian neighbourhood, were killed by security forces, activists in the city said.
In a village in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, security forces shot dead a man standing on his balcony, the Observatory said.
It added that security forces in Damascus carried out dawn raids in Rukn Eddin district, where electricity was cut off, and arrested dozens of activists. Dozens more were detained overnight on the outskirts of the capital.
Arab countries — Jordan Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — alongside European countries and the United States, are to ask the United Nations’ top human rights body to hold a special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria, diplomats in Geneva said.
On Thursday, the world body’s Security Council is due to hold a special session on Syria, with the participation of the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.
The UN on Wednesday said it had withdrawn about 25 international staff and dozens of families of expatriate workers from Syria because of mounting security fears.
Rights groups say the crackdown has killed 1,827 civilians since mid-March, while 416 security forces have also died in what the authorities have termed a campaign against terrorists and armed gangs.
Tunisia, meanwhile, announced Wednesday it is recalling its ambassador to Syria.
Switzerland on Wednesday widened its sanctions against the Assad regime, adding 12 individuals to a list of key players under financial embargo and travel restriction.
But the head of Russia’s arms export agency said Moscow was continuing to supply weapons to its traditional ally Damascus.
“While no sanctions are announced, while there are no orders or directions from the government, we are obliged to fulfil our contractual obligations, which we are now doing,” Rosoboronexport chief Anatoly Isaikin said.
Since Sunday, more than 30 civilians have been killed in Latakia in a military offensive during which gunboats went into action for the first time since the start of pro-democracy revolts in mid-March, according to activists.
SANA has denied any maritime operation and quoted a military official saying security forces were “hunting armed men” in Latakia districts “who opened fire on residents.”
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees reported that more than half of the 10,000 refugees of Ramel camp in southern Latakia had fled under fire from Latakia districts.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said Wednesday he could confirm three Palestine refugee deaths in the camp, although there are reports of at least one more, as well as many injuries and damage to property.
He said the agency had started providing assistance to about 400 displaced families, and expects the numbers to increase in the next day or two.