Hama Residents Speak Out About Violence Of Military Siege
Residents of Hama have told of indiscriminate shelling by the army, snipers aiming at civilians and corpses piling up in the streets in the wake of a week-long military siege of the defiant Syrian city.
The government, however, claimed it was ridding the city of "terrorists".
Having blocked nearly all outside witnesses to the violence, President Bashar Assad is insisting that terrorists and thugs - not pro-democracy protesters determined to bring him down - are driving the five-month uprising.
But the government accounts defy reality, offering a surreal spectacle to the thousands of Syrians facing down the military and to outside observers. Most of the 1,700 people killed since March in the crackdown have been unarmed, peaceful protesters, according to activists and human rights groups.
In a reflection of the difference of opinions, Syria's ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja'afari dismissed European criticism of the crackdown, and compared protests in his country to this week's English riots. The remark drew a quick rebuke from a British envoy at the world body, who immediately branded it an "absurd comparison".
A Hama resident said of the government: "What they are saying is pure lies. When they bombed the city, they bombed it randomly. They shot anything that moved in the streets. They were killing people in the streets."
The Obama administration, which announced new sanctions against Syria on Wednesday, is preparing for the first time to explicitly call for Assad to step down. The moves are a direct response to Assad's decision to escalate the crackdown by sending tanks into opposition hotbeds.
The military assaults continued on Wednesday. The Local Co-ordinating Committees, an opposition group that helps organise and document the protests, identified 15 people killed in the central city of Homs, another centre of protests.
The siege of Hama began last week with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the regime feared large prayer gatherings at mosques nightly after the daytime fast would turn into a new wave of anti-government protests.
On Wednesday, ministry of information officials escorted journalists on a trip to the city - an outing designed to portray the military as Syria's saviour.