x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Activists call for Syrians to strike amid Assad's crackdown

Syria's opposition called a general strike, ramping up efforts to persuade the country's business elite to abandon their long-standing ties to the regime.

BEIRUT // Syria's opposition called a general strike over Bashar Al Assad's crackdown on an eight-month revolt, ramping up efforts to persuade the country's business elite to abandon their long-standing ties to the regime.

The move came as Syrian troops stormed a village in the central province of Hama, killing six people - the latest in what has become daily violence and bloodshed in the country. The United Nations today said 'much more' than 4,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March.

A recent spate of economic sanctions from the Arab League, Turkey and European Union are punishing Syria's ailing economy, a dangerous development for the government in Damascus. Syrian business leaders have long traded political freedoms for economic privileges in the country, where the prosperous merchant classes are key to propping up the regime.

The sanctions, coupled with increasing calls for strikes, could sap their resolve.

It was difficult to gauge how widely Syrians were abiding by the strike, which activists announced on an opposition Facebook page. The regime has sealed the country off from foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting.

Residents in Syria's two economic powerhouses - the capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo - reported business as usual today.

But in the flashpoint city of Homs, a resident told the Associated Press that most of the shops were closed, except for those selling food. Homs has been one of Syria's most volatile cities, with increasing clashes between troops and army defectors.

"Few people are in the streets and only about 20 per cent of students went to schools and universities," said one resident, who asked that his name not be made public for fear of government reprisals.

A video posted online by activists showed mostly closed shops in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, which also has seen large anti-regime protests.

Despite the recent diplomatic squeeze and Thursday's strike, the government has shown little sign of easing its crackdown.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said security forces swept through the village of Traimseh in the central province of Hama. The group said six people were killed, without giving further details.

Another person was shot dead in the nearby province of Homs, the group said.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said six people were killed and nine wounded in Traimseh. It added that the operation was continuing in the village.

Also today, the government took journalists on a trip to the village of Kfarbo in Hama province, where they spoke to the family of a 9-year-old boy who was shot dead in Homs three days ago while he was buying biscuits from a shop.

"He was holding a biscuit in his hand not a pistol," the child's mother, Georgina Mtanious Al Jammal, told reporters. "They have burnt my heart."

She blamed "armed terrorists" for killing her son.

The shooting is particularly resonant in Syria because the boy, Sari Saoud, was from a Christian family. Christians and other religious minorities in Syria generally support the regime because they feel it offers them important protections.