Protester supplies running low in Syrian city
BEIRUT — The city at the heart of Syria’s uprising ran low on food, water, and medicine yesterday as the army sent in more tanks and reinforcements as part of a widening crackdown against opponents of President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian regime, witnesses said.
Two residents in Daraa said at least five army officers had sided with demonstrators, and conscripted soldiers sent into the city were quietly refusing orders to detain people at checkpoints and were allowing some people through to get scarce supplies. But the Syrian government denied that there had been any splits in the military, which is seen as fiercely loyal to Assad.
Gunfire and sporadic explosions were heard in Daraa, two days after the military rolled in. The army also deployed tanks around the Damascus suburb of Douma and the coastal city of Banias, the site of large demonstrations recently.
“We have no electricity, no water, no telephones, and no bread,’’ resident Abdullah Abazeid said by satellite phone from Daraa, where the uprising began more than five weeks ago. “The situation is terrible.’’
Assad is trying to crush the uprising that poses the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty. Since mid-March, more than 450 people have been killed across Syria in the crackdown, with 120 dead just over the weekend.
The repression, however, has only emboldened protesters who started their revolt with calls for modest reforms but are now increasingly demanding Assad’s downfall.
Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began.
Eyewitness accounts coming out of Syria have caused world leaders to increase their criticism of the Assad regime. The governments of five European nations summoned Syrian ambassadors yesterday in a coordinated demand that Assad stop shooting at his people. Germany said sanctions were possible if the crackdown didn’t ease, echoing remarks by Britain’s foreign secretary a day earlier.
A group of opposition figures in Syria and abroad warned Assad that his regime will collapse unless he ushers in democracy.
“Syria is at a crossroads,’’ said the statement from the National Initiative for Change. “The best option is for the leadership of the regime to lead a transition to democracy that would safeguard the nation from falling into a period of violence, chaos and civil war.’’
The government throttling of the protest movement showed no sign of letting up.
One Douma resident said security agents were going house to house, carrying lists of wanted people and conducting raids.
In Latakia, an activist said security forces fired live bullets and a stun grenade at demonstrators in poor neighborhoods near the city’s Palestinian refugee camp of al-Ramel. He said four people were wounded.
Most residents contacted for accounts of the events in Syria spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety.
The Syrian armed forces said in a statement that army units continued their operations in Daraa and the countryside to chase “extremist terrorist groups.’’ It said the groups attacked troops near the Golan Heights, killing three officers and wounding 15.
State-run Syrian TV said army units halted groups of “armed terrorists’’ who blocked the road and opened fire in Daraa.
Also yesterday, 16 lower-ranking members of the ruling Baath Party from Banias and nearby villages resigned to protest the crackdown — a small move of defiance but one that would have been unthinkable even a month ago in Syria.