Iran helping Syria in brutal crackdown on protesters
President Assad getting equipment and ‘lessons’ from Tehran as reports speak of horrors in Syria
Amid reports of worsening human rights abuse in Syria, with security forces apparently shooting doctors and nurses tending wounded demonstrators, an unofficial briefing in Washington claims that the regime in Iran is actively supporting Syria by providing crowd control equipment and advice.
Unnamed officials in the Obama administration have told the Wall Street Journal that Tehran is sharing "lessons learned" from the 2009 post-election crackdown when ordinary Iranians took to the streets to protest at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election as president. Over 60 Iranians died in those protests; others have disappeared into Tehran's jails.
Furthermore, Iran is said to be providing Syria with technical assistance to monitor and control emails sent by opposition groups trying to organise pro-democracy demonstrations across Syria.
Today's Journal report follows a White House statement on Tuesday which called the escalating repression in Syria "outrageous". Numerous reports have claimed that the Syrian authorities are purposefully blocking off hospitals and preventing doctors from reaching the wounded.
Equally shocking are the unconfirmed reports of security forces shooting soldiers who refuse to fire on civilian demonstrators.
Speaking to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in the southern city of Daraa, one witness, 'Ahmad', said that he had seen roughly 35 people falling to the ground after security forces with Kalashnikovs and snipers fired directly into the crowd during protests on April 8.
He told HRW that the same security services then refused to allow ambulances to drive near the road, and that they shot at those who tried to collect the wounded. He said he later saw the bodies of a doctor, a nurse and an ambulance driver, all of who had apparently been shot dead while working.
In Harasta, a town near Damascus, a doctor told HRW that soon after protests there on April 8, he started receiving calls asking for help. "I knew people could not bring the wounded in," he explained. "The hospital was surrounded by the security personnel. We also couldn't send an ambulance, fearing the security forces would open fire, as happened in other places."
There have been persistent rumours that security forces have shot some soldiers dead when they refused to open fire on protesters in the coastal city of Banias over the weekend. Wassim Tarif, from the human rights organisation Insan, named Mourad Hejjo as one such example, telling the Guardian that, "his family and town are saying he refused to shoot at his people".
Speaking to The First Post, Maha Abu Shama, a campaigner for Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme, said she had heard similar reports. “One protestor told us that he heard that the soldiers were shot in the back, indicating that they were not shot by protesters," Shama said. "The brother-in-law of one of the soldiers said in an interview that he was shot by security forces on Friday, but his name is not one of the dead soldiers listed by the Syrian state news."
However, there have also been reports that protesters in Banias had their own guns, and that they killed some of the soldiers. State-run news channel SANA reported the story by saying that nine Syrian soldiers were killed on Sunday by terrorists and thugs.
Attempts to corroborate these reports are hampered by President Bashar al-Assad's government, which continues to blame the unrest on foreign conspiracies and attacks by random armed gangs and which bans foreign journalists entering the country. Those already in Syria are forbidden to travel outside Damascus, and many have been forced to write under pseudonyms.
The current unrest in Syria began when a dozen people were shot dead by police during demonstrations in Daraa three weeks ago. Since then protests have spread across the country, including to the capital city of Damascus. The official death count stands at 171, with unofficial estimates putting the figure much higher. Hundreds of people, including activists, writers and journalists, have been arrested and remain incommunicado.
British foreign secretary William Hague has admitted that the situation is "deeply troubling", and says "violence against protesters is unacceptable".
"This isn't surprising," Shama told The First Post. "In Syria there is quite a history of impunity over human rights abuses and a massive lack of accountability. We are very concerned. ·
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