Syrians mark end of Ramadan with more demonstrations
7 killed as troops fire on worshipers leaving mosques
BEIRUT - Thousands of Syrians took to the streets yesterday after prayers marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, defying a broad deployment of security forces across Syria that has made August one of the bloodiest months of the uprising.
Activists said that at least seven people were killed in southern and central Syria when troops loyal to the government of President Bashar Assad opened fire on worshipers emerging from mosques.
The popular uprising in Syria, which started in mid-March, is the most serious challenge to Assad’s rule that he has faced. Activists say that protests have grown more frequent lately, apparently encouraged by the fall of Moammar Khadafy of Libya.
Assad also faces rising international pressure not to use violence against the protests. The United States and some European countries have said he has lost legitimacy and have called on him to step down. The European diplomats said Monday that sanctions might be imposed on Syrian banks, energy, and telecommunications companies within a week, along with a planned embargo on Syria’s oil exports. The United States said yesterday that it was freezing the assets of several more Syrian officials, including the foreign minister.
At least 2,200 people, by the United Nations’ count, have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the unrest. The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, an activist group, said yesterday that 551 people were killed during Ramadan alone. The group said 130 others were killed on July 31, the eve of Ramadan, in an attack on the city of Hama, which was also the scene of a ferocious crackdown in 1982.
Yesterday, four people were killed in Hara and two others in Inkil, two towns in Daraa Province, according to the Local Coordination Committees, another group of activists who document demonstrations. Daraa is a poor region in the southern steppe that became a flashpoint of protests after security forces arrested and tortured 15 teenagers there who were caught scrawling antigovernment graffiti on walls.
‘’They don’t want us to have any peaceful day,’’ Um Mohammad, a mother of two from Damascus, said of the security forces. “We are grieving this Id, and we were not going to celebrate, so they didn’t have to kill more people today.’’ She was referring to the feast of Id al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.
“Everybody is sad,’’ said Nashwan, a father of three from Homs who asked that his surname not be published. “No one is celebrating, not even between family members. It is a sad city.’’
The activists said that one person was killed in Homs, in central Syria, where large protests have been mounted against the leadership of Assad, who came to power in 2000, succeeding his father. The activists said that heavy gunfire was heard across the city, and phone lines were cut early yesterday morning.
The Local Committees also reported a heavy presence of troops and secret police near mosques to deter people from praying.