(HN, April 30, 2011) - UPDATED MAY 1 1520GMT - In some of the worst fighting to date in the ongoing, seven-week battle between pro-democracy demonstrators and Government forces in Syria, live fire and heavy artillery is being used in an attempt to quell defiant protesters.
News agencies report that more than 70 people have been killed nationwide this weekend - including 70 in Deraa (درع), the besieged town that has become the symbol of the uprising, alone. Eyewitnesses have been quoted as saying that tanks are shelling parts of the southwestern city near the border with Jordan, and that its main mosque has been stormed by government forces.
An estimated 46 people will killed Friday and Saturday in Deraa alone. Since the conflict began, as many as 700 people have been killed.
The Shaam News Network (SNN) reports that Deraa is totally blockaded and that snipers are picking off protesters from rooftops. " Killing is random in the city from the security forces and the Fourth Battalion," SNN said.
According to one account, as many as 7,000 have been arrested since the uprising began.
On Sunday, CBC News broadcast unsourced, amateur video from two days earlier showing several people dead and injured on a road near Deraa. Shooting could be heard in the background and several motorcycles strewn on the road.
Opposition websites are showing footage said to be of a soldier who says he deserted after being ordered to fire on unarmed protesters in Damascus, the BBC reported.
Said Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor of London's Guardian newspaper, in a commentary today: "Bashar al-Assad has opted for repression rather than concession."
"...For Assad, the survival of the police state founded by his father is a very personal affair which he has dressed up as a national necessity to "prevent" his country from slipping into civil war."
Farid Ghadry, the Syrian-born head of the US-based Reform Party of Syria, told The Jerusalem Post he believes that Syria is descending into a sectarian civil war, and that President Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered.
Even if Assad survives a bit longer, Ghadry wrote in an email to the newspaper from Washington, “he will be a dead man walking. It is hard to put humpty dumpty back together. I cannot ever imagine anyone visiting with him or dealing with him after what he has done.”
Assad has been president since 2000, having succeeded his authoritarian father Hafez al-Assad. OIver the weekend, Syria's neighbour, Turkey, urged Assad to end the bloody crackdown but also said western nations should avoid an intervention like the one in Libya.
Obtaining reliable information out of Syria is extremely difficult given the paucity of accredited journalists and a crackdown on freedom-of-speech and Internet communications. While Al Jazeera is one of the few accredited media organization still allowed to report, its staff have been accused by government loyalists of "lies' and "exaggeration" in its reporting.
Al Jazeera reported today that land lines, the Internet and mobile phone networks have all been cut in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus.
- HUMNEWS staff