Middle East News
Syria deploys troops, tanks in Hama; arrests in Damascus
Jul 3, 2011, 15:38 GMT
Zuhair Ghanoum, (C-L) a former Member of the Syrian Parliament, speaks with journalists before the beginning of an opposition gathering of some 200 independent figures and reformists at Semiramiss Hotel in Damascus, Syria on 3 July 2011. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
Cairo/Damascus - The Syrian government on Sunday deployed troops and armoured vehicles in the central city of Hama, an opposition group said, and there were fresh arrests near the capital Damascus.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has responded to the widespread anti-government protests with near-daily crackdowns, ignoring the condemnation of the international community.
Troops, tanks and armored vehicles were stationed 3 kilometres from the entry points to Hama, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC) reported.
Numerous arrests were reported early Sunday in Hama amid heavy gunfire and the beefed up presence of security forces, LCC said.
The crackdown came one day after al-Assad sacked the province's governor after thousands of demonstrators gathered in the provincial capital on Friday.
Meanwhile, at least 25 people were arrested in the suburbs of Damascus, most of them under 15 years old, said the LCC.
More than 1,365 civilians and 344 security personnel have been killed, according to local human rights groups, since the protests calling for al-Assad's ouster began in mid-March.
At least 10,000 people have been detained, according to human rights advocates. But the reports of casualties and arrests cannot be independently verified because most foreign media have been banned from Syria.
Meanwhile, there was chaos at a 'national initiative' conference held in Damascus earlier in the day that was organized by a group of 'independent intellectuals,' according to the meeting's coordinator Mohammed Habash, a moderate Islamist and member of parliament.
Last month, al-Assad said a national dialogue would start soon to review new legislation including laws on parliamentary elections, draft a new media law, allow the creation of political parties other than the ruling Baath Party, and consider changes to the constitution.
Although the conference was approved by the vice president's office, the management of the hotel where Sunday's conference was held initially refused to let participants in, prompting several to withdraw in protest. More than 200 people were invited to the meeting, but only about 40 attended.
'I am leaving because what is happening here does not serve Syria,' Hussein al-Ammash, former chief of the government's Commission for Fighting Unemployment, told the German Press Agency dpa.
'It seems some sides do not want Syrians to talk. They prevent us from holding the meeting after their promises for an alleged national dialogue,' al-Ammash said.
Both protesters and Western diplomats have said that al-Assad's promises for a national dialogue were insufficient, as the violent crackdown on protesters continued.
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