Middle East
Protesters defy crackdown in Syria
Night demonstrations held in several cities as Syrian interior ministry says security operation in Latakia has ended.
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2011 23:13

Anti-government protesters continue to take to the streets across Syria, despite reports of deaths and arrests as the military cracks down on demonstrators.

Rallies were staged in several locations after night prayers on Tuesday, including in Homs, Albu Kamal near the Iraqi border, Binnish in the north and in some Damascus suburbs.

Syria's interior ministry said on Tuesday that security forces had completed its operation in the al-Ramel al-Janoubi neighbourhood of the coastal city of Latakia, which activists say has been subjected to a four-day assault that has left at least 36 people dead.

Brigadier General Mohammad Hassan al-Ali said residents of al-Ramel al-Janoubi, which houses a Palestinian refugee camp, "is recovering and the citizens are practicing their normal life that was spoiled by the acts of the terrorist groups," according to the state-run SANA news agency.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), said that those killed in Latakia on Tuesday included a 13-year-old boy shot dead by a sniper. Al Jazeera is unable to confirm details because of restrictions on reporting in Syria. 

A resident of the al-Ramel al-Janoubi neighbourhood, who called himself Ismail, told Al Jazeera earlier in the day that gunboats and tanks had been used in the assault. He said snipers were stationed around the city, shooting at anyone who ventured into the streets.

"What's happening is really severe ... The moment they see anything moving they will shoot it," he said.

Troops raided and destroyed houses in several neighbourhoods while gunfire could be heard, residents said.

"The heavy machine gun fire and bullets were intense in areas of Latakia, Ramel, Masbah al-Shaab and Ain Tamra for more than three hours," said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The group said soldiers raided the Sqanturi area and made dozens of arrests.

'Waking up to gunfire'

The UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees in Latakia said that thousands of refugees have fled their camp which reportedly came under fire after President Bashar al-Assad's forces began shelling the city.

Regional powers have turned up the pressure on Assad

"A forgotten population has become a disappeared population because we have no idea of the whereabouts of as many as 10,000 refugees who fled Latakia over the last few days,'' said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

A senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation condemned the violence used against Palestinian refugees.

"The shelling is taking place using gunships and tanks on houses built from tin, on people who have no place to run to or even a shelter to hide in. This is a crime against humanity." Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PLO secretary general, told the Reuters news agency.

The assault on Latakia has drawn sharp Arab and international condemnation.

"The regime's violence continues despite widespread condemnation by the international community. The calls for the violence to stop, including from Syria's neighbours, have not been heeded," British Foreign Minister William Hague said in a statement.

Assad "is fast losing the last shreds of his legitimacy. He must stop the violence immediately," Hague said.

'Internal affair'

Western diplomats said the United Nations' top human rights body is likely to hold an urgent meeting next week to discuss the escalating crackdown in Syria, according to the AP news agency.

Diplomats from two of the Human Rights Council's 47 member countries said they have collected enough signatures to call for the special meeting as early as Monday. Signatures so far include at least one Arab nation, AP said. 

In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Syria's key regional ally Iran warned on Tuesday that any Western intervention in the "internal affairs" of Damascus would stoke "public hatred" in the region. 

Meanwhile, dozens of army vehicles were seen leaving the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor on Tuesday after a military operation that activists said has left 32 people dead since troops seized control of the city last Wednesday.

Syrian state television said the army had crushed "armed gangs" in the city, and aired footage of residents cheering the departing troops.

But only hours later, the SOHR reported that one person was killed when security forces opened fired to disperse an anti-government protest in the city where "hundreds of people" marched in Takaya street.

Residents said tanks were still present at the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor and that troops were raiding houses looking for wanted dissidents.

LCC also reported some arrests in the Damascus suburb Arbeen, and in the capital's Palestinian Yarmouk neighbourhood, where residents had been marching in solidarity with the Palestinian camp in Latakia on Tuesday.

The crackdown has escalated since the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, when nightly prayers became the occasion for more protests against Assad and 41 years of Baathist rule.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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