Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Syria tightened security around Damascus and other cities in anticipation of rallies that have taken place every Friday since an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad began in March.
Security forces set up checkpoints and conducted searches at the entrances of the Damascus suburbs of Harasta, Douma and Kisweh, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone today. Thousands of people have regularly staged protests after Friday prayers.
Government forces killed at least 14 protesters yesterday in the central towns of Rastan and Talbiseh near the governorate of Homs and the northern province of Idlib, Merhi said. There are reports of clashes between security forces and Syrians who defected from the army to the opposition in Rastan, he said.
The Syrian protests are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that unseated governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad’s crackdown has left more than 3,600 civilians dead since the protests began in March, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. About 30,000 people have been detained and 13,000 are still being held, Qurabi and Merhi said. About 700 members of the state security forces have been killed in the uprising.
European nations on the United Nations Security Council gave the panel a third version of their draft resolution this week calling for members to “consider” sanctions 30 days after adoption of the measure if Syria doesn’t halt the violence. It also urges restraint on “all sides” and greater involvement of the Arab League in a political solution to the crisis.
Opposition to Sanctions
Russia is opposed to any mention of sanctions, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters yesterday.
“I am pessimistic now” about the text, he said. “We believe on both sides there were things that were deeply disconcerting.”
Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, who has been a critic of Assad, escaped a violent mob of government supporters yesterday while visiting opposition lawyer Hasan Abdul-Azim at his office in Damascus.
“A crowd of demonstrators tried to assault Ambassador Ford and embassy colleagues” as they met with “a well-known Syrian political figure,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said yesterday. Toner said the mob tried to attack U.S. officials who were inside vehicles, seriously damaging the cars in the process.
“Syrian security officers finally assisted in securing a path” for the ambassador and his aides to return to the embassy, Toner said.
Ford’s car was pelted with rocks, eggs, tomatoes and sticks, a person familiar with the situation said. The four- wheel-drive vehicle had dents and some of its windows were cracked or shattered, the person said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday condemned the attack on Ford in the “strongest terms.”
“This attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified,” Clinton said in remarks to reporters in Washington. The U.S. is “demanding” that Syria “take every possible step to protect our diplomats according to their obligations under international law,” she said.
--With assistance from Nicole Gaouette and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington, Flavia Krause-Jackson and Bill Varner at the United Nations. Editors: Karl Maier, Jennifer M. Freedman
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