Monday, May 16, 2011

Syria's silent screams

'Thank you BBC'

In Syria, foreign, local and online media are virtually absent as a result of unprecedented government clampdown on protest activity. The latest source of information is from Syrian refugees who have fled to other parts of the Arab world, both for their own safety and in order to spread the message about the atrocities occurring in their homeland.

On Sunday, Syria shelled towns near the Lebanese border, and on Monday, Syrian moved tanks into rural areas near the Lebanese border, its latest focus in suppressing countrywide protests. As a result of the deteriorating security situation near the Syrian-Lebanese border, many Syrians have fled to Lebanon in recent days. According to Al Jazeera, 5,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon since protests began.
"The situation ... is catastrophic,'' said Ahmad, 55, who crossed the border into Lebanon overnight Monday and asked to be identified only by his first name.
"If you walk in the streets of Talkalakh [Syrian border town shelled on Sunday] you can smell the dead bodies,'' he said.
Authorities justified the siege by saying the town was full of Islamic extremists who wanted to form an Islamic state, residents told the AP news agency.
One resident said the conflict in Talkalakh had taken on dangerous sectarian tones.
Hamid, 45, who also asked to be identified only by his first name, said pro-government armed men known as "shabiha'' were targeting Sunnis in the town.
Today, a mass grave was found in the main protest city of Daraa in Syria, where Syrian security forces have clamped down on residents' freedom of movement and enforced strict curfews. Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch reports on CNN on the testimonies of those who managed to escape from Syria to Jordan:
Mohannad finally managed to escape the southern city of Daraa on May 9, two weeks after the Syrian army had surrounded the city and cut electricity, phone lines and Internet services, preventing movement into and out of the city. "The situation in Daraa is indescribable," he told us from neighboring Jordan.
With six other men, he had taken shelter in Daraa's sewers May 7 to avoid the Syrian forces, who were forcing their way into homes and detaining the town's men. He emerged 13 hours later to return home, only to find that tanks were surrounding his neighborhood.
He decided to escape. With about 50 other Daraa residents, including women and children, he walked across fields to reach the Jordanian border near Tel Shehab at midday May 9. "The Syrian security forces opened fired on us as we neared the border," he said. "I think they killed 11 people. I am not sure. I just ran for my life."
The situation in Syria is a disgrace to world powers claiming to stand by the forces of democracy and human rights in the Middle East. Yet there's a reason Syria is taking the West so long, and it's not only the embarrassing lack of media attention. The U.S. and the rest of the West know that a Libya-style attack on Syria is an indirect attack on Iran. That's not to say it won't happen -- but the West needs to have its guarantees that it is ready for such a confrontation. Stay tuned for allusions to Iran as the dark side of the Middle East in Obama's upcoming speech, and be sure that Palestinians are not the only, and not even the top issue on the Bibi-Barack table in Washington this week.

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