Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Syrian insurgents defy crackdown to gather their fallen

Bashar Assad
A pro-Assad protester shows her support for the president in Damascus, Syria

The besieged people of Daraa braved sniper fire to pull the bullet-riddled bodies of their dead from the streets yesterday.

A day after a brutal government crackdown on the southern Syrian city, heavy gunfire continued to reverberate.

The army onslaught was part of the relentless crackdown on anti-government protesters which has seen more than 400 people killed since mid-March.

President Bashar Assad's army, backed by tanks and snipers, launched a deadly raid before dawn yesterday on Daraa, where the uprising started more than a month ago, and the towns of Douma and Jableh. At least 22 people were killed in Daraa.

World leaders expressed concern at the mounting bloodshed, with the US starting to draw up sanctions against Assad, diplomats hoping to send a strong signal to Damascus from the UN, and the prime minister of neighbouring Turkey telephoning the Syrian leader to urge restraint.

European countries have called for “strong measures” to halt repression. In a joint statement, France and Italy urged the EU and UN to put pressure on Syria to end its crackdown.

The UK said it was also discussing measures.

The assault on Daraa appeared to be part of new strategy of crippling, pre-emptive action against any opposition to Assad, rather than reacting to demonstrations.

It took more than a day for residents to start taking many of the bodies off the streets, with rooftop snipers and army forces firing on those who dared to leave their homes.

One man, Zaher Ahmad Ayyash, was killed as he tried to retrieve the bodies of two brothers, Taysir and Yaser al-Akrad, said a resident, who asked to be identified only as Abdullah for fear of reprisal.

The corpses were hidden away after they were retrieved Abdullah said, suggesting that residents might face reprisals if troops discovered they had taken them.

As he spoke on the phone, gunfire popped in the background.

“We can't bury the dead in the cemetery because it’s occupied by Syrian soldiers,” said Abdullah.

“We are waiting to find another place to bury them.”

Snipers also targeted water tanks on roofs in southern Daraa — the last source of water for many desperate residents.

Even as the military crackdown intensified, Abdullah said there was quiet, defiant resistance.

He said some soldiers were disobeying orders and allowing residents to pass through military checkpoints.

Palestinian refugees — generally at the bottom level of Syrian society — smuggled flour, water, bread and canned food into town.

“We owe them our thanks, we are so grateful to them,” the resident said.

Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to troublespots since the uprising began, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

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