Latest crackdown prompts Palestinians to protest against Syrian regime


ELEANOR HALL: Despite the intensified international pressure on his rule, the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad stepped up his retaliation against Syria’s civilian population over the weekend.

Human rights groups say president Assad’s forces launched an attack on land but also from the sea on the port city of Latakia.

The state-run news agency denies that the navy was involved in any attack. But human rights groups say 26 people were killed in Syria yesterday bringing the number of civilians killed since March to more than 1,600.

Bronwyn Herbert has the latest.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Syria’s protesters won’t be silenced but speaking out comes at a deadly cost.

The port city of Latakia is the latest under attack. Resident Fouad says several districts in the city were bombed by government forces.

FOUAD (translated): At 6am this morning heavy and intensive firing began from various light and heavy weapons. We heard very loud explosions in the al-Ramleh and Masbah al-Shaab neighbourhoods where the army was attempting to storm the area from three different directions.

Now the army has taken the area. I witnessed this with my own eyes from the rooftop of a building.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Latakia was one of the first Syrian cities to stage protests under president Assad earlier this year.

Fouad says unarmed demonstrators were fired at yesterday and a mosque was targeted too.

FOUAD (translated): My friends who live in the area told me the demonstrators are completely unarmed, but there are reports of defections from the army and some of the army troops are clashing with security forces. There are now snipers on the rooftops of nearby buildings including the train station and the refugee department. Shelling was also heard from tanks and navy boats.

The number of injured has reached 70 and the number of those killed is almost 28 martyrs, confirmed and documented by name.

The shelling is random but it is targeting any movement and the minaret at the al Muhajirin mosque was targeted by automatic guns.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The London-based Syrian Observatory said Syrian naval vessels used heavy machine guns.

The Observatory’s Moussa Azzawi told the BBC while two gunboats fired into the city’s south, four wheel drive vehicles mounted with machine guns invaded Latakia’s suburbs

MOUSSA AZZAWI: They deployed almost 40 cars and they started to shoot indiscriminately and just to impose a curfew which has been ordered unofficially by the local government.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Syrian authorities have blamed the bloodshed on armed gangs and Islamist militants. The Syrian state-run news agency has denied that the navy had attacked Latakia.

The latest violence has provided the impetus for 400 Palestinian youths to stage a sit-in in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Palestinians carried Syrian flags and called the Syrian president a coward to attack his own people.

In neighbouring Jordan, foreign minister Nasser Judeh has told BBC television the events in Syria over recent months are a cause for great concern.

NASSER JUDEH: This cannot continue. There have been countries that have voiced complete rejection of the targeting of civilians, of the use of force, of the steering away from dialogue and implementation of reforms including my own country and I think we are watching with great concern and with anger at what is happening on the streets of Syria.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Jordan has responded far differently to the street protests that swept through its kingdom earlier this year.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has sought political reform. He says he supports proposals to transfer some of his power to parliament and to boost civil liberties.

ELEANOR HALL: Bronwyn Herbert reporting.