Utilities to rebellious area in Syria cut off
BEIRUT — Electricity, phone lines, and then the water supply were cut off in a restive area of Syria that is a new center for protests against President Bashar Assad, and activists said 15 people died in the sixth day of sustained government attacks yesterday.
What started as street demonstrations calling for reforms has evolved into demands for Assad’s ouster in the face of a violent crackdown, especially in Syria’s south and agricultural center, where the challenge to his family’s 40-year-rule is seen as strongest. In the city of Rastan yesterday, a resident who fled said troops swept through making arrests.
“We have become refugees in our own country,’’ said the resident, who said he slept in the woods to avoid capture. He was reached by telephone and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “My family and sisters are still there, and I don’t know how they are doing.’’
Syria’s opposition, fragmented by years of sectarian and ideological tensions, made tentative steps to organize and show an international face at the end of a two-day conference in Turkey. They called on Assad to step down to allow for free elections.
Murhaf Jouejati, a political science professor at George Washington University who specializes in Syria, said the conference was an attempt to “put together a vision of what a post-Assad Syria will look like.’’
But the call issued by participants consisting mostly of Syrian exiles is unlikely to resonate soon beyond the conference. It also highlighted internal divisions that have long been exploited by the government.