Syrian troops hunt for defector
Official quit over regime’s violence against dissenters
BEIRUT - Syrian soldiers raided homes and made arrests yesterday in a manhunt for a provincial attorney general who appeared on video last week saying he had defected from President Bashar Assad’s regime to protest a violent government crackdown on dissent, activists said.
Also yesterday, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said the regime had allowed the agency to visit Damascus Central Prison for the first time during the 5-month-old uprising.
“The Syrian authorities have granted the ICRC access to a place of detention for the first time,’’ Jakob Kellenberger said. “Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the Ministry of the Interior, and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees.’’
Witnesses said the crackdown on protesters continued unabated yesterday. Soldiers demanding information about Adnan Bakkour fanned out near the Turkish border and in central Syria, said Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the activist network the Local Coordination Committees. Security forces killed at least one person near the Turkish border.
Bakkour’s whereabouts remained unclear. The ex-attorney general for central Hama Province appeared in two videos last week declaring his resignation, but authorities said terrorists had kidnapped him and forced him to make the recording.
Bakkour denied the government claim in one of the videos.
His defection appeared to be the highest-level so far in the uprising.
In an audio message posted online over the past day, a man who identified himself as Bakkour said that security forces and proregime thugs had attacked his convoy Friday in the Maaret Hirmeh area in Idlib province, killing four people accompanying him and wounding three others.
“I myself was lightly wounded because of shrapnel,’’ he said in the audio recording, adding he was able to escape with the help of other dissidents.
Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media during the revolt, which poses the most serious challenge to the Assad family’s four-decade rule. Activist accounts and amateur videos posted online are vital sources of information, but it is nearly impossible to confirm the reports.
The United Nations estimates some 2,200 people have been killed since March as protesters take to the streets every week, despite the near-certainty that they will face a barrage of bullets and sniper fire by security forces.
The regime blames the unrest on thugs and armed gangs and claims security forces are the real victims.
Elsewhere, troops stormed the flashpoint districts of Khaldieh and in Syria’s central Homs province yesterday, killing at least two people, according to the activist network. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London said as many as six people were killed.
Another man was killed in the western town of Talkalakh during security operations there.
Yemen Yemeni warplanes launched a series of airstrikes yesterday in a southern province overrun by Islamic militants.
A military official said at least 12 militants were killed in airstrikes in eastern Abyan province. Another local official said dozens of militants were killed in the north of the province.
Fighters with suspected links to Yemen’s Al Qaeda offshoot took over towns in Abyan, including the provincial capital and another major town, Jaar, in April, taking advantage of turmoil that grew out of massive demonstrations demanding the resignation of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In June, Saleh was wounded in a bomb attack on his palace and departed for Saudi Arabia for treatment. He is still there, but he insists he will return home, defying international demands that he step down. The anti-Saleh protests and growing political disarray have created a security vacuum in southern Yemen, where Al Qaeda-linked militants are battling the military for control. Western nations view Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen as one of the most dangerous.