Witnesses of the bloody events in the Syrian city in 1982 speak as protests force open the veil of fear and secrecy.
|Activists reported deaths of at least 28 people as thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets [AFP]|
Thousands of protesters across Syria have defied a government crackdown to commemorate the 1982 massacre in the city of Hama that killed tens of thousands.
Activists reported the deaths of at least 28 people across the country on Friday, including three children.
In Hama’s central neighbourhood of Junub al-Malaab, security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least three people, the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network reported.
Protesters emerged from Friday prayers in the port city of Latakia despite a menacing presence of forces who fired gunshots to disperse the crowds, activists reported. A similar demonstration was held in Yabrod, in Damascus province.
Under the slogan “Hama, forgive us”, government opponents called for demonstrators to dress in black and march in honour of the estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people who died. The massacre was the result of a crackdown by late leader Hafez al-Assad, the father of President Bashar al-Assad, on an armed uprising.
Similar rallies were staged on Thursday in memory of the victims.
Residents of the central city of Homs told Al Jazeera they were under daily attack.
Locals said they face starvation due to dwindling supplies and near-constant attacks by snipers and mortar fire from forces loyal to the president.
“Actually we’re living in starvation. We’re really hungry; no bread, no food, no drink, no electricity, no water, not anything,” one resident of Homs told Al Jazeera.
“There is nothing. Everything is fighting and bombs. And war. Even if we want to go to the next street we can’t,” he said.
International journalists have been restricted from travelling freely in the country, but Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson was able to enter Homs, which she described as resembling a “ghost town”.
|VIDEO: Journalist Robert Fisk remembers Hama massacre|
|OPINION: The revenge of Hama 30 years on|
“It looks like a ghost town but people are here, hiding. Some venture out to buy whatever food there is. Families conserve every last scrap of break, worried the last supply routes will soon be cut off,” she said.
In a bid to halt the escalating violence, diplomats at the UN Security Council in New York have been debating a draft resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria.
On Friday, a senior US state department official said his country is “cautiously optimistic” Russia will support the resolution.
The latest draft does not explicitly call on Assad to step down or mention an arms embargo or sanctions, though it “fully supports” an Arab League plan to facilitate a democratic transition.
Speaking on conditions of anonymity, the official said: “From our perspective, this meets the objective of supporting the demands of the Syrian people and the Arab League… providing a peaceful Syrian-led political path forward.”
“This is the kind of resolution the entire council should support and the secretary and [US] Ambassador Susan Rice are working the phones, working the halls to get a strong vote in the coming hours and days.”
The latest attempt at consensus emerged amid an impasse in the UN Security Council, with Russia leading the opposition to a tougher draft resolution authored by Western powers and the Arab League.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson was able to enter Homs, which she said resembled a ‘ghost town’
The new draft “fully supports” the January 22 Arab League request that Assad transfer power to a deputy and a government of national unity within two months but does not call on him to step down, according to a copy obtained by the AFP news agency.
Instead, it calls for a “Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system … including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States’ auspices, in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States.”
Like previous versions, the draft “condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from”.
In a seperate development, a US-based rights watchdog published a report accusing the Syrian government forces of targetting children as young as 13 years old.
Human Rights Watch documented 12 cases of children tortured in detention centres.
The uprising against Assad began in mid-March and has so far led to the death of more than 5,400 people, according to the UN.