Syria forces break up Hama protest marking killings

BEIRUT (Reuters) — Syrian forces shot dead one person in the city of Hama on Friday as they broke up a protest marking the anniversary of a 1982 massacre by troops loyal to President Bashar Assad’s father, activists said.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces dispersed demonstrators in the Janoub al-Malaab district of Hama, where residents had planned to release 1,000 red balloons to mark the killing of more than 10,000 people when Hafez al-Assad’s forces crushed an Islamist uprising.

Violence has raged on as diplomats at the United Nations wrangle over an Arab and Western draft resolution condemning today’s Syrian authorities for a military crackdown on an 11-month-old revolt in which thousands of people have been killed.

Activists reported arrests and heavy gunfire in several areas and said at least 18 people were killed across Syria.

Violence also returned to the main commercial hub Aleppo, which has so far remained largely on the sidelines of the uprising but which is now home to a growing opposition movement.

Eight soldiers were killed in clashes with army deserters in the southern province of Deraa and seven people were killed in Damascus province, where the government beat back rebels who temporarily seized towns last week.

Syria’s government says foreign-backed militants are behind the uprising against 42 years of Assad family rule. Authorities prevented any commemoration of the Hama killings in all that time.

Activists had said protests would be held across Syria on Friday after the main weekly Muslim prayers under the banner “Hama, forgive us”.

Video footage on the Internet, purportedly filmed in Hama on Friday, showed dozens of people in a sidestreet waving green, white and black rebel flags and chanting “freedom forever”.

On Thursday, Hama residents coated many streets with red paint to mark the four-week assault on the city and the razing of its old town by Hafez al-Assad’s forces in February 1982.

At the UN Security Council, Arab and Western drafters of a resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown revised their text on Thursday in an effort to avoid a Russian veto, though their draft included language Moscow has rejected.

( / 03.02.2012)

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