Pro-democracy activists in Syria vowed more protests against President Bashar al-Assad for Friday, as reports of more bloodshed and the deployment of a convoy of Syrian special forces fuelled condemnation of the crackdown on opposition protests.
“We are receiving an increasing number of alarming reports pointing to the Syrian government’s continuing efforts to ruthlessly crush civilian protests,” said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Speaking in Geneva, the commissioner called on Damascus to halt the crackdown: “It is utterly deplorable for any government to attempt to bludgeon its population into submission, using tanks, artillery and snipers.”
Witnesses said that late on Wednesday a large military convoy was seen heading for the northwestern city of Jisr al-Shughur, a town where Syria says 120 police and soldiers were killed this week by “armed gangs” and from which hundreds of civilians have fled. The convoy had left the city of Aleppo along the main Aleppo-Idlib highway where one demonstrator was killed as he, with others, threw stones at the military.
At least 60 transporters carrying tanks and armoured vehicles, plus more than 10 lorries packed with soldiers, were seen on the route. Human rights groups says more than 1,100 people have been killed throughout the country since the protests erupted in mid-March. Pillay said activists were now reporting that up to 10,000 people had been detained. Damascus has disputed allegations of violations, and Pillay urged authorities to allow UN investigators in to probe the claims.
At the United Nations Security Council, Western powers have begun debating a draft resolution put forward by Britain and France demanding an end to the violence and an arms embargo on Syria.
On Thursday, Syria’s foreign ministry bluntly criticised French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, saying he was taking on himself “the right to distribute legality to officials of different countries.” Juppe’s statements harked back to the time of the French colonial mandate over Syria, which would never return, the ministry said.
It added that said Syria “is determined to pursue reforms under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad. It will authorise no external interference on this subject.” Ignoring the administration’s talk of reform, the Syrian opposition on Thursday urged renewed protests for the following day under the slogan “Friday of the Tribes”, using a Facebook page to spread their call. “The tribes with the revolutionaries.
The people want to bring down the regime peacefully and under the banner of national unity,” said the website “Syrian Revolution 2011,” calling on more tribes to join the protests. A statement released in the name of tribes from the central city of Homs said: “We have supported the Revolution since the first day. The regime must know that all elements of society are opposed to it.”
The call for Friday protests followed a pattern set by the opponents of the Assad administration since March 15, calling for weekly demonstrations on that day under different slogans. At the Vatican on Thursday Pope Benedict XVI called on Damascus to respect the citizens’ “dignity”. Meeting the new Syrian ambassador to the Holy See, Hussan Edin Aala, the pope said: “Every nation’s path to unity and stability lies in recognising the inalienable dignity of all people.
This recognition should be at the heart of institutions, laws and societies.” He added that the recent mass demonstrations against the government in Damascus “show the urgent need for real reforms” and called for “respect for truth and human rights” instead of “intolerance, discrimination or conflict”.