International

Heavy Syrian assault in Hama

Syrian forces have launched a heavy assault to crush several anti-government protests, ahead of plans by activists to escalate them during Ramadan, the holy month on the Muslim calendar that begins on Monday.

The biggest governmental crackdown was launched in the city of Hama, where, the opposition claims, 49 people have been killed during pre-dawn assaults on Sunday. For nearly a month, Syrian armed forces had besieged the city, before moving in, apparently with full force, on Sunday. However, with a virtual media blackout, and amateur videos and telephone calls being the main sources of information, it has been difficult to independently ascertain claims by either side.

Spelling out the government's version, the Syrian state news agency said armed forces were countering fighters armed with machine-guns and rocket propelled grenades in the city. “Armed groups in Hama set police stations on fire, vandalised public and private property, set roadblocks and barricades and burned tires at the entrance of the city and in its streets.”

But Reuters quoting a doctor said troops had launched an all-out assault in the city. “Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machineguns randomly and overrunning makeshift road blocks erected by the inhabitants,” he said.

The irregular Alawite militia, loyal to the President, known as ‘shabbiha' was also moving in buses with the troops, witnesses said.

President Bashar Al-Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, which is in minority, in a country which is dominated by Sunni Muslims. Analysts say Sunday's assault is bound to have a severe psychological impact as it feeds into memories of the infamous Hama massacre of the 1982, when around 10,000 people were killed, on orders issued by the late Hafez Al Assad, father of the current President.

Troops apparently also swarmed into Dier al-Zour, Syria's fifth-largest city to the east.

The Local Coordination Committee, a Syrian opposition groups claimed that 13 people were killed in the city on Sunday. Separately, The Syrian evolution Coordination Union said 57 soldiers in the city, including three offices had defected to the demonstrators.

These claims contrasted starkly with the official version, which said armed groups in the city had “cut off roads, terrorised citizens and attacked police.”

It added: “An exchange of fire occurred. The police forces confronted these armed groups and are still chasing them ... The inhabitants of Deir al-Zour have expressed their rejection of these actions which are bad for the homeland.”

Government forces have also reportedly launched an attack in Dara'a, the southwestern province, which is the cradle of the uprising against the regime which began in mid-March.

In its report released last week, the rights group Avaaz claimed that Syrian forces had killed 1,634 people during the course of its crackdown. On its part, the Syrian government alleged that “armed terrorist groups” had killed more than 500 troops and security personnel.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 5:09:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/heavy-syrian-assault-in-hama/article2311367.ece

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