|Hama is a traditional opposition stronghold and has played a major role in the ongoing uprising [Reuters]|
Syria’s opposition groups have called protests to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre, amid progress at the United Nations on an agreement over action to halt the government’s crackdown on dissent.
Demonstrations were held in several cities in memory of the estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people who perished in February 1982 when Hafez al-Assad, the late president and father of current leader Bashar al-Assad, ordered a fierce assault on the central city to crush a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Activists in Hama poured red dye and paint on the ground and on the city’s iconic waterwheels on Thursday. They said fire engines were deployed to wash away paint and that troops closed public squares to prevent demonstrations.
“We did not mark it the way we wanted. The heavy security prevented us from protesting but at least now we can talk about it and it is acknowledged,” activist Mohamed abu al-Kheir said.
Graffiti on the walls read: “Hafez died, and Hama didn’t. Bashar will die, and Hama won’t.”
Hama has played a major role in the uprising against Assad, which began in March last year. Mass rallies have been held, resulting in deadly crackdowns which have killed more than 500 people in the city, according to local activists.
The anniversary comes as diplomats at the UN Security Council in New York were debating a draft resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria. The Arab League has asked the council to endorse an action plan for Syria which it put forward last month.
Russia has made clear it would veto any UN resolution it finds unacceptable, and block any statement paving the way for foreign military intervention.
The draft, put forward by Morocco, the only Arab member of the council, has been under debate for days. It does not call for Assad to step down, as proposed in the Arab League plan.
Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said on Thursday that the Arab League will not accept any further concessions.
“The version which we have is the minimal which we can accept,” he told Al Jazeera.
He said that if Russia did not support the current version, it should use its veto.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN ambassador, told Al Jazeera that he was not asking for any more changes to the draft, but declined to answer a question whether Russia would veto the resolution.
Al Jazeera’s Cath Turner, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said it seems that the council had seceded to Russia’s requests.
“Russia has been able to include the phrase “without foreign military intervention”, she said. “They have taken out paragraphs which said that the Security Council supports transfer of power from President Assad to his deputy, the forming of a unity government, and free and fair elections.”
Meanwhile in Moscow, a high-level defence ministry official said Russia will not halt its arms exports to Syria despite the violence as there are no sanctions restricting such deliveries.
“As of today there are no restrictions on the delivery of weapons and we must fulfil our obligations” Anatoly Antonov, the deputy defence minister, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. “And this what we are doing.”
The uprising in Syria has cost thousands of lives, both military and civilian. What started as street protests has increasingly turned into an armed conflict, with army defectors and civilians taking up arms against the state.
Authorities have blamed the unrest on “armed gangs” and restricted media access to the country.