Syrian tanks stormed the city of Hama on Sunday killing 136 civilians, the latest reports from Al Arabiya indicate. After shelling various districts of the city for the last month, Assad’s forces carried out today one of the most ruthless single-day assaults on demonstrators yet.
Ausama Monajed, a leading Syrian dissident living in London, has suggested that the development is an all-out military attempt to quell protests before the beginning of Ramadan on Monday, when massive crowds are predicted to gather nightly after evening prayers at city mosques.
The US embassy in Damascus’s Press Attache has issued a statement saying the Syrian government has launched “full armed warfare on their own citizens.”
According to a doctor at Badr hospital, “Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machineguns randomly and overrunning makeshift road blocks erected by the inhabitants.” He added that his facility was running low on blood for transfusions and that Syrian forces had cordoned off access to the other main hospital, Al Horani. According to residents, state troops have also occupied the main buildings of the city’s electrical company and have begun strategically cutting off power to various neighborhoods.
It has become an increasingly commonplace practice when discussing Hama to reference the massacre that happened there in 1982 when the current president’s father, Hafez al-Assad, sent state troops into the city to crush an armed Sunni revolt led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Though that siege targeted whole neighbourhoods and saw similarly executed mass killings, the situation in Hama at present is vastly different.
Firstly, when US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, visited the city just weeks ago (in what was billed as a major gesture of international support for demonstrators) he characterized the rebellion as peaceful and pro-democracy. Secondly, while the regime endlessly blames “armed terrorist groups” for the violence, video from across the country has consistently shown over many months the blatant killing of unarmed civilian protestors, including women and children, by the Syrian military.
It has been two months now since Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, then considered a strong ally of Assad, said publically, “We do not want to see another Hama massacre” and warned it would be impossible for the Syrian regime to contain international reaction if a similar event were repeated. Yet in the face of a month-long besieging of the city’s residents, his complicity endures.
Ultimately, the largest challenge for demonstrators is not the removal of Assad from power, but instead a reforming of the state’s security infrastructure, which is so heavily controlled by members of his father’s regime and its loyalists. In this way, real change in Syria will demand an eventual and exhaustive political process. One wonders after Sunday’s escalation, however, if demonstrators in Hama and across the Syria have the endurance to continue their push to that end.
Currently, reports are circulating that President Assad’s immediate family is in London, including his wife Asma. This as a group of Syrian military defectors calling themselves “The Free Army of Syria”, which we have been tracking over the last few days, says it will continue to confront security forces and respond to further attacks on civilians in the falshpoint eastern oil hub of Deir ez-Zour.