Why Syrian Forces Kill Six Protesters as President Assad Rejects Call to Leave

Syrian security forces killed at least six protesters yesterday and the army backed by tanks surrounded parts of the southern area of Daraa, where rallies against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule began five months ago.

The killings took place in the Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Daraa governorates, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said today. Demonstrators also took to the streets late yesterday in suburbs of the capital, Damascus, where gunfire erupted, wounding many, and the authorities carried out “wide-scale arrests,” Merhi said.

Assad, in an interview on state television from Damascus yesterday, rejected U.S. and European demands that he step down and pledged to schedule parliamentary elections by February and review the constitution. He called the U.S. and European nations “colonialist” countries that want to infringe on Syria’s sovereignty.

“We don’t permit any country in the world, near or far, to interfere,” Assad said. “Any military action against Syria will have many more implications than they can bear.”

The latest developments follow the killing of 40 protesters on Aug. 19 in a suburb of Damascus, Homs and Daraa and another 15 people the following day in Homs, according to Merhi and Qurabi. Assad told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Aug. 18 that security operations had stopped.
EU Sanctions

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a coordinated move with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, issued a statement on Aug. 18 saying Assad should leave and let Syrians chart their own political future.

The EU followed a day later with an agreement to broaden sanctions against the regime, including preparing for a ban on the import of Syrian crude oil into the bloc.

Obama’s declaration was his first explicit call for Assad to give up power since the uprising started. He also signed an executive order freezing any Syrian government assets in the U.S. and banning the import of petroleum products of Syrian origin. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Syria earlier this month.
2,400 Killed

Faced with the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year rule, Assad has deployed tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and helicopters to crush the uprising that began after revolts ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and sparked a conflict in Libya.

More than 2,400 people have been killed since the protests started, according to Merhi’s and Qurab’s organizations. At least 500 members of the security forces have died, the government has said.

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 Syria. He has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots. Anyone proven to have committed an offense against a Syrian citizen, whether civilian or military, will be held accountable, he said yesterday.

“Assad has lost credibility with the U.S., the Arab states and the Europeans,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “His commitment to reform is all talk.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut at; Viola Gienger in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at
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