Syrian opposition marks 30th anniversary of Hama massacre
AFP DAMASCUS SYRIA’S opposition called protests on Thursday to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre, as the United Nations moved closer to agreement on action to halt a deadly regime crackdown on dissent.
Demonstrations were planned in various cities in memory of the estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people who perished in February 1982 when then president Hafez al- Assad, father of the current president Bashar, launched a fierce assault on the central town to crush an Islamist revolt. The anniversary was taking place as the regime in Damascus battles to crush an unprecedented revolt that has left more than 6,000 people dead since mid-March, according to estimates of human rights groups.
The city of Hama defiantly painted roads in red and staged a general strike on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “Several roads have been painted red and the waterwheels marked ‘Hafez is dead while Hama has not disappeared’’,” it said, in reference to the famous landmark of the city on the Orontes river. International efforts to stop the bloodshed have so far failed, with Russia, a key all of Syria, firmly opposed to an Arab- and Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence.
But diplomats hinted in New York on Wednesday that a compromise to overcome Russia’s objections was possible.
“We have made some progress today,” Britain’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said after a three-hour meeting of council members.
The draft resolution, introduced by Morocco, calls for the formation of a unity government leading to “transparent and free elections,” rather than for Assad to step down as proposed in an Arab League plan.
It stresses that there will be no foreign military intervention in Syria as there was in Libya, which toppled Moamer Qadhafi. A new draft was expected to be prepared following Wednesday’s talks and submitted to Council members later Thursday for new discussions, diplomats said.
As part of efforts to resolve the crisis, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, quoted by daily Radikal, said Ankara could give asylum to Assad’s family. “It would of course be considered if such a request were made,” he said. The number of dead has mounted in recent weeks with the central cities of Homs and Hama suffering heavy losses. Activists said the 1982 massacre of Hama, which went largely unnoticed by the international community when it took place, had now come back to haunt the Assad clan.
“On this 30th anniversary, another massacre is taking place today but on a larger scale and led by the son of Hafez al Assad,” the Local Coordination Committee said.
The group called for activists to release red balloons in memory of those who died in what many describe as the worst atrocity in Syria’s modern history.
It urged demonstrators to burn portraits of Hafez al Assad and his younger brother Rifaat, who supervised the aerial bombing on Hama.
Rifaat al Assad now lives in exile in London. The opposition also called for “the trial of the regimes of Hafez and Assad for massacres against the Syrian people.”