x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Syrian forces kill 11 in 'vengeance' raid on anti-regime protesters

Latest violence comes as 200 Syrian youth activists open four-day meeting in Istanbul to discuss ways of improving coordination among groups seeking to topple President Bashar Al Assad.

DAMASCUS // Syrian forces pursued a deadly crackdown on anti-regime dissent yesterday, killing 11 people in a "vengeance" raid on a town near Damascus and arresting hundreds in operations outside the capital, activists said.

The latest violence came as some 200 Syrian youth activists opened a four-day meeting in Istanbul to discuss ways of improving coordination among groups seeking to topple President Bashar Al Assad.

The dawn raid targeted the town of Kanaker, west of Damascus, Ammar Qorabi, head of the National Organisation for Human Rights, told AFP in Nicosia.

"The security forces entered homes at dawn on Wednesday and during the operation 11 people were shot dead and more than 250 arrested," said Mr Qorabi, providing AFP with the names of the victims.

He said the operation in Kanaker, a town of 25,000 people, was backed by "a bulldozer and army tanks" and targeted people between 15 and 40 years old.

He added that at least 11 vehicles were used to carry away those arrested, as electricity, water and the internet were cut.

The raid was an "act of vengeance" because inhabitants had supplied provisions to anti-regime protesters in Daraa when it was besieged by troops earlier this year, Mr Qorabi said.

Troops and security forces stormed Kanaker at dawn under the cover of heavy gunfire, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a statement emailed to AFP.

"Residents of Kanaker threw stones at the tanks" and set tyres ablaze to block their approach and chanted Allahu Akbar.

"Mosques in the town were turned into field hospitals," to treat those wounded, the Observatory said.

The Observatory said that authorities have imposed a curfew on Daraa since Saturday while troops were tightening controls at entrances of the town, where the anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

Meanwhile, a rights activists reporting from Aleppo said "hundreds of lawyers" staged a sit-in yesterday, chanting: "Freedom, freedom".

In Istanbul, Syrian youths from home and abroad got together to discuss strategy and how to bring about regime change.

Moaaz Al Sibaai, an organiser, said: "The objective is basically to get the activists together, put together a strategy for coordination."

The authorities have used deadly force to quell dissent, with at least 1,486 civilians reported killed since the uprising began in mid-March, thousands arrested and thousands more fleeing the country, human rights groups say.

Some rights groups say at least 12,000 people have been detained since the protests erupted, but it is unclear how many are still being held and how many have been released.