Syria: Ramadan massacre in Hama
100 dead as President Assad sends tanks in to regain control of restive city
Around 100 people were killed in Hama yesterday in a bloody escalation of a month-long siege of the city by Syrian troops. The attack is seen as a bid by President Bashar al-Assad to pre-empt unrest expected during the holy month of Ramadan.
Witnesses said that tanks drove through the city firing their machine guns randomly in all directions. Snipers were seen targeting both the wounded and anyone trying to film the events.
Local hospitals struggled to deal with the influx of injured people, as surgeons were forced to operate on many people simultaneously. There were widespread reports of the army using tank shells and anti-aircraft weaponry, with some corpses apparently missing large chunks of their bodies.
Protests elsewhere in Syria were met with similar violence. 19 people were killed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, and there were shootings and arrests in the southern town of Hirak and suburbs of Damascus.
Many believe that Assad was issuing a warning before the start of Ramadan - which begins today - during which nearly all of the country's population will attend mosque daily, providing a focal point for intensified dissent.
"Assad is running scared," one Syrian opposition activist said. "No matter what he's done, no matter how brutal he has been, people keep coming on to the streets in bigger and bigger numbers. Today has been all about intimidation, but it will not work. Time is running out for the regime, and they know it."
US president Barack Obama said the news was "horrifying", and accused Assad of being "completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people". William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said there was "no justification" for the "shocking" attacks.
Syrian authorities once again blamed the unrest on "armed groups" in a statement yesterday on the state news agency Sana.
There were suggestions that the Syrian army had seen its first major defection after a video was released of a man claiming to be an army colonel and proclaiming himself leader of the 'Syrian Free Army'. This report now appears to be false.
The largely Sunni city of Hama has essentially been out of government control for several weeks. For many, yesterday's events brought back memories of the 1982 massacre of roughly 20,000 dissidents in that same city, as ordered by Assad's father, Hafiz. Assad is an Alawite - a sect of the rival Shia branch of Islam.
But with around half of the city's 800,000-strong population taking to the streets every day at the moment, such memories have so far failed to deter them from their cause.
More than 1,500 civilians have been killed by government forces across Syria since protests began in March and a further 12,000 people have been arrested, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. ·
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