Syrian forces kill 40 as Arab League denounces attack
The Arab League has sent an urgent message to the Syrian government denouncing 'the continued killings of civilians'
The Guardian, Saturday 29 October 2011
Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Hula, near Homs, on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters
After what was one of the bloodiest days in seven months of protests, Arab ministers sent their strongest message yet calling for an end to civilian killings.
The Arab League's committee on the Syrian crisis said it had sent an "urgent message ... to the Syrian government expressing its severe discontent for the continued killing of Syrian civilians".
The committee said in a statement it had "expressed the hope that the Syrian government would take action to protect civilians".
Forces acting for President Bashar al-Assad were reported to have chased protesters and conducted house-to-house raids following the end of prayers in the central cities of Hama and Homs, which have seen an emerging armed insurgency.
One activist, Mustafa Osso, told the Associated Press that Syrian forces opened fire on as many as 2,000 people who had gathered to protest. "There was a very fierce reaction to the protests in Homs. There are many injured as well. Hospitals are having a hard time coping with the casualties," he said.
It is believed there were at least 170 separate protests across the country. An 80-year-old man was reportedly shot near Homs and a young boy in the south-western city of Deraa, but there were conflicting reports over the details.
Restrictions on foreign journalists make it difficult to confirm events.
In Balaa – a district to the south-west of the capital Damascus that has also seen an emerging armed insurgency – around 20,000 protesters marched against the regime, according to the London-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The organisation said there had also been 40 arrests in the Barzeh neighbourhood of Damascus.
Phone and internet services were disrupted in Homs and parts of the capital.
The UN estimates about 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March.
But the recent clashes between the regime and protesters have not broken the stalemate between the two sides, as protests continue but the regime appears to be sitting tight. There have also been calls for international involvement.
Opposition figures have debated a possible no-fly zone over Syria in case of aerial attacks against civilians, but many have rejected the idea of foreign military intervention. Others have called for the involvement of international monitoring agencies.
Last month China and Russia vetoed a western-backed resolution on Syria and a senior Chinese envoy in Syria has said his country would continue to veto any UN security council resolution.
The Arab League has also been looking for a way forward. Representatives from Qatar, Egypt, Algeria, Oman, Sudan and Yemen on Wednesday held "frank and friendly" talks with Assad. The opposition Syrian National Council said dialogue was "impossible" as long as the government crackdown on protesters continued.
Arab ministers are due to meet Syrian officials on Sunday in the Qatari capital of Doha.