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Middle East
Assad says Syrian operations have stopped
President tells UN chief that security forces have halted operations, but witnesses report sustained military presence.
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2011 04:54

Military and police operations against protesters in Syria have stopped, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the world body said in a statement.

But there was still a strong military presence in neighbourhoods across the country, Al Jazeera's sources said on Thursday.

Assad's announcement comes ahead of a UN Security Council meeting later on Thursday at which the UN's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, could call for Syria's crackdown on protesters to be referred to the International Criminal Court, according to diplomats.

In a phone call with Assad on Wednesday, Ban "expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria, including in the al-Ramel district of Latakia, home to several thousands of Palestinian refugees," the United Nations said in a statement.

"The secretary-general emphasised that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped," the statement added.

Pillay, head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is expected to address the 15-nation Security Council in a closed-door session on Syria on Thursday, along with UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.

Pillay will say a "thorough appropriate international investigation is needed," said a diplomat speaking to Reuters anonymously, adding that Pillay was "likely to suggest that the ICC would be appropriate".

"OHCHR [Pillay's office] have indicated that their Syria report will find evidence that Syria has committed grave
violations of international human rights law in its actions dealing with protesters over the past five months," the diplomat said.

Military presence

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh, reporting from Ramtha on the Syria-Jordan border on Thursday, said there were reports of sustained military presence across the country.

"In Latakia, we were told that heavy gunfire was heard in one of the neighbourhoods there in the early hours of the morning ... In the Qunaines neighbourhood we were told that troops raided the area and made mass arrests there; and two helicopters were seen flying over al-Ramel al-Janoubi neighbourhood, with fresh arrests there."

In other areas, including Deir ez-Zor, Deraa and areas around Damascus, Shamayleh said there were reports of tanks present, military checkpoints, and arrests made.

Syrians who spoke to Al Jazeera "don't buy these statements that operations have stopped," Shamayleh said.

"They are very sceptical of them. They don't think the military operations are going to stop because they don't think that their revolution, as they say, is going to stop."

"They are going to continue to organise protests. They are even uniting under what they described as the High Commission for the Syrian Revolution ... one umbrella that will basically organise the protests in all the provinces."

The government's crackdown in Syria is estimated to have killed around 2,000 civilians since the protests began in March.

Defying international calls

Elsewhere on Thursday, Switzerland said it was recalling its ambassador to Syria and it condemned the violence perpetrated by security forces against civilians.

"The actions of the Syrian security forces are not acceptable," the country's  Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Assad's government has defied international calls for an end to the repressive measures employed by security forces to suppress the five-month-old uprising.

In comments carried on the state-run news agency, Assad told members of the ruling Baath Party that Syria would not give up its "dignity and sovereignty".

Spotlight
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

The government insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out "terrorist groups" it says are creating unrest in the country.

According to activists, Assad has unleashed tanks, ground troops, snipers and warships in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas.

Samir al-Nashar, a Syrian opposition activist who headed the Secretariat of the Damascus Declaration - a statement of unity by Syrian opposition in 2005 - told Al Jazeera "President Bashar al-Assad is no longer enjoying any support in the country, except the military and the presidency people in Syria."

"Syria now is on the verge of a historic change and Syria will move into a democratic regime during which the choice and the decision lies with the Syrian people."

Government assault

The government's assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in August, with hundreds reported killed and thousands arrested.

"Aleppo witnessed yesterday [Wednesday] huge demonstrations from the city, demonstrations that went through 3km with thousands of participants," al-Nashar said, adding that "thugs and mobs" had tried to occupy the square and form a rift between the demonstrators.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees, a group that documents anti-regime protests, said security forces killed nine people on Wednesday night in Homs.

Syria-based rights activist Muhannad al-Hassani said that Assad's crackdown also killed nine people elsewhere in Syria on Wednesday, the AP reported.

Activists said that security forces were continuing their assaults on Deir ez-Zor and in areas of the coastal city of Latakia, despite state media reports of troop withdrawals on Wednesday.

The reports were also disputed by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, who on Wednesday said Syrian soldiers were still in Deir ez-Zor and other towns.

Dozens of people are reported to have been killed in Deir ez-Zor and Latakia since the weekend.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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