Last Updated: Wed Aug 31, 2011 20:32 pm (KSA) 17:32 pm (GMT)

France says Assad’s actions ‘irreparable’ as Syrian troops raid Hama again

Syrian soldiers shout pro-Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slogans as they, as they withdrew from the city of Hama. (File Photo)
Syrian soldiers shout pro-Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slogans as they, as they withdrew from the city of Hama. (File Photo)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared on Wednesday that the actions of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad had caused “irreparable” damage to his legitimacy and vowed to support his overthrow.

Sarkozy statement came hours after Syrian troops backed by tanks raided houses looking for activists in two main districts of the city of Hama on Wednesday, residents said.

 The regime in Damascus wrongly believes it is safe from its own people 
French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Earlier, the United States said that “pro-government thugs” in Syria made a “feeble attempt” to draw world attention away from protests by video showing Ambassador Robert Ford being harassed by an Assad supporter.

In his annual address to France’s top diplomats, Sarkozy said France will do whatever is “legally” within its power in order to ensure a victory of Syria’s pro-democracy movement over Assad’s regime.

“The regime in Damascus wrongly believes it is safe from its own people,” Sarkozy said, referring to Assad’s ongoing battle to suppress pro-democracy street protests that have erupted in Syrian cities.

“What the Syrian president has done is irreparable. France, with its partners, will do all what is legally possible in order that the Syrian people’s hopes for freedom and democracy are triumphant.”

The Syrian regime, meanwhile, sent troops again to the restive city of Hama to crush pro-democracy protests against the rule of President Assad, who has sent the military to numerous towns and cities across the country to crush the five-months of street protests.

“Several light tanks and tens of small and big buses parked at al-Hadid bridge at the eastern entrance of Hama. Hundreds of troops then went on foot into al-Qusour and Hamdiya neighborhoods. The sound of gunfire is being heard,” Abdelrahman, a local activist, told Reuters by phone.
“These neighborhoods have been among the most active in staging protests,” he added, according to Reuters.

Another resident said Toyota pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns and buses full of troops also assembled overnight near al-Dahiriya district at the northern entrance of Hama, 205 km (130 miles) north of the capital Damascus.

Hama, on an ancient agricultural plain on the Orontes River, was scene of a 1982 massacre by the military. The city saw some of the largest protests in the current uprising.

Tanks and troops entered the city of 700,000 on the eve of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan on July 31 and according to an activist group killed 130 civilians in the first day of the attack alone.

Emboldened by Qaddafi’s ouster

Demonstrators, during a solidarity protest for Syria, in Geneva. (File photo)
Demonstrators, during a solidarity protest for Syria, in Geneva. (File photo)

Troops withdrew after 10 days though and residents reported a resumption of protests, encouraged, like elsewhere in Syria, by the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, with whom Assad had close ties, and increased international pressure on the government.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that a total of 473 people were killed during protests in the just-ending Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Syria.

The death toll comprised 360 civilians and 113 members of the security forces and army, the rights group said, according to AFP.

The civilians included 25 people aged under 18, 14 women and 28 who died in detention or under torture, the observatory said, mainly in the region of Homs where government forces were reported to be conducting new operations Wednesday.

Assad, from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, has repeatedly said he is using legitimate force to defeat what he says is a foreign plot to divide Syria.

State television aired an audio recording on Tuesday of what it said were two terrorists. It said the tape revealed “a full agenda of provocation and targeting police and army camps and terrorizing peaceful citizens in the name of freedom and non-violence”.

Foreign media were expelled from Syria after the uprising began in March, making verification of reports difficult.

In the northwestern province of Idlib on the border with Turkey, troops shot dead one villager, Hazem al-Shihadi at a checkpoint overnight near the town of Kfaruma where there has been increased army defections, activists said.

Demonstrations broke out across the country on Tuesday after prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, notably in Damascus suburbs, the city of Homs, 165 km (100 miles to the north) and the northwestern province of Idlib, activists and residents said, adding that security forces shot dead four demonstrators in the southern Deraa province, who included a 13-year-old boy.

“The people want the downfall of the president,” protesters shouted in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, where activists said dozens of soldiers defected at the weekend after refusing to shoot at the crowds.

The Obama administration froze the US assets of Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem and two other Syrian officials on Tuesday in response to the crackdown.

Opposition figures in Syria see international pressure as crucial to stripping Assad of legitimacy and in helping raise the momentum of protests.

"Feeble attempt"

 But some pro-government thugs came and tried to interrupt his bearing of witness and then put it on YouTube as a cynical effort to portray him as an agiteur when, in fact, they should have been paying attention to their own lawyers protesting peacefully at the bar association 
Victoria Nuland, US State Department

The United States said Tuesday that “pro-government thugs” in Syria made a “feeble attempt” to draw world attention away from protests when they filmed the US ambassador observing a sit-in.

A video posted Monday by the US blog The Cable shows Ambassador Robert Ford being harassed by a supporter of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime who tried to wrap him in a poster of the Syrian leader.

The event was broadcast on a Syrian television station owned by Mohamed Hamsho, a businessman who is the brother-in-law of the president’s brother, Maher al-Assad, The Cable said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the incident happened last week when Ford and European ambassadors were invited by a group of lawyers to attend a sit-in at the Syrian Bar Association.

“He was not involved in any disruptive activity,” Nuland told reporters, according to AFP.

“But some pro-government thugs came and tried to interrupt his bearing of witness and then put it on YouTube as a cynical effort to portray him as an agiteur when, in fact, they should have been paying attention to their own lawyers protesting peacefully at the bar association,” she added.

When asked if the event indicated Ford was in any danger, Nuland replied: “the ambassador’s guard force was able to handle the incident, and it ended peacefully, and he left the scene.”

She added: “From that perspective, it was a feeble attempt to divert the world’s attention from what’s really going on in Syria with the Syrian people.”

In a report published on Tuesday, the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union grassroots activists’ group said Assad’s forces killed 551 people during the month of Ramadan.

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