Gunmen loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad killed at least 10 during demonstrations as the protesters, emboldened by rebel success in Libya, called for Assad to bow to international pressure to resign.
Mass arrests were reported in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, and authorities also carried out arrests in other cities, according to rights activists. Security forces conducted raids in Hama, deployed tanks in Deir al-Zour, and positioned forces around Damascus, Al Jazeera television reported.
Assad has used tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, helicopters, and even warships to crush the most serious threats to his family’s 40-year rule. The demonstrations began in mid-March in the southern town of Daraa after revolts ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and sparked a conflict in Libya that is inexorably grinding its way to a Qaddafi-free future.
“Qaddafi is gone, gone and it’s now your turn, Bashar,” the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted Syrians as chanting.
At least 10 protesters died yesterday in Hama, Homs, Aleppo and the southern area of Daraa, where rallies against Assad’s rule began. The United Nations Human Rights Council today ordered a probe into Syria’s crackdown on anti-government protesters, including possible crimes against humanity.
The council condemned “continued grave and systematic human-rights violations by Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human-rights defenders.”
The resolution to “urgently dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international human-rights law in Syria since July 2011” passed in Geneva by a 33-4 vote, with nine abstentions, on the second day of a special session on Syria.
The European Union, the U.S. and Arab countries including Saudi Arabia sponsored the resolution; while China, Russia, Cuba and Ecuador voted against the resolution while India, Mauritania, Angola, the Philippines, Cameroon, Uganda, Bangladesh, Djibouti and Malaysia abstained.
Assad informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Aug. 18 that "security operations" targeting civilians had stopped. A day later an estimated 40 protesters were killed in Homs, Daraa and a suburb of Damascus, according to rights activists.
“It’s troubling that he has not kept his word,” Ban told reporters yesterday in New York.
Assad, who succeeded his father as president after his death in 2000, said security has improved and that Syrian forces had foiled efforts to undermine the country. He has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots.
Assad, in an interview on state television from Damascus on Aug. 21, rejected US and European demands to step down and pledged to schedule parliamentary elections by February and review the constitution. He called the US. and
European nations “colonialist” powers that want to violate Syria’s sovereignty. Assad has also blamed the protests on Israel saying they were a "Zionist plot."
The UN puts the civilian death toll in Syria at more than 2,200.