Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Government isolates rebel area

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad demonstrate outside a hotel where the opponents of the Syrian regime gathered in Turkey (AP)

Electricity, phone lines and then the water supply have been cut off in a restive area of Syria that is a new centre for protests against President Bashar Assad, and activists said 15 people have died there in the sixth day of sustained government attacks.

What started as street demonstrations calling for reforms has evolved into demands for Mr Assad's ousting in the face of a violent crackdown, especially in Syria's south and agricultural centre, where the challenge to his family's 40-year-rule is seen as strongest.

In the city of Rastan, a resident who fled said troops swept through making arrests.

"We have become refugees in our own country," said the Rastan resident, who said he slept in the woods to avoid capture.

He was reached by telephone and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

He said: "My family and sisters are still there, and I don't know how they are doing."

Syria's opposition, fragmented by years of sectarian and ideological tensions, made tentative steps to organise and show an international face, calling on Mr Assad to step down to allow for free elections at the end of a two-day conference in Turkey.

Murhaf Jouejati, a political science professor at George Washington University who specialises in Syria, said the conference was an attempt to "put together a vision of what a post-Assad Syria will look like".

But the call issued by participants consisting mostly of Syrian exiles is unlikely to resonate soon beyond the conference.

It also highlighted internal divisions that have long been exploited by the government: Several prominent figures stayed away following disputes about the agenda and timing.

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