5 May 2011

Syria: thousands detained, hundreds dead

After a midnight raid in a suburb of Damascus, hundreds more protesters in Syria have been detained. Amnesty International tells Channel 4 News the uprising is “unparalleled” in Syria’s history.

Syrian protesters in the port of Banias (reuters)

Around 2,500 people have been detained and more than 500 protesters are now reported to be dead in the seven-week long uprising in Syria. In the latest clashes, hundreds of soldiers have raided the Damascus suburb of Saqba.

At around 1am on Thursday an unidentified witness in the district said: “They cut off communications before they came in. There is no resistance. The demonstrations in Saqba have been peaceful. Scores of people have been arrested.”

Human rights activists in Syria claim that 260 people have been detained in Saqba and a further 800 in Deraa since the army moved in.

Neil Sammonds, Syria expert at Amnesty International, told Channel 4 News the uprising was “unparalleled” in Syria’s history.

He said the organisation couldn’t give out figures for the total numbers of those detained, killed or protesting, due to a lack of transparency.

“It’s impossible to say,” he said. “We can’t keep up and there’s no transparency. But many hundreds, likely thousands.”


Troops are now reportedly leaving Deraa. Syrian news agency Sana reported that 350 soldiers left the city at 10am local time on Thursday and that an official military army source had told them that their mission was completed to “chase elements of terrorist groups … and to restore security, peace and stability”.

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However, this is the only withdrawal across the country as peaceful protests are being surrounded by military personnel. In the towns of Homs and Hama there have been reports of tanks and troops using force against anti-government swells of protests. Army units have been set up in Banias whilst armoured vehicles were deployed to the town of Rastan.

News network Al-Jazeera has urged Syrian authorities to release one of their journalists, Dorothy Parvaz, who was detained on arrival in Damascus and has not been heard of since. Officials informed the news team that the 39-year-old was in custody and being treated well – but she was not allowed to talk to them or her family. No charges have been detailed after she was taken away at the airport in the Syrian capital.

It is another indication of the lockdown that Syria is now under with journalists from around the world struggling to gain any access to the country and pictures and images from the country coming only via amateur videos from online social media sources, similar to the situation in Libya soon after protests began there.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Italian Foreign Minister Frattini to discuss imposing sanctions against Syria. They included travel restrictions on senior Syrian officials and a suspension of co-operation talks with the EU.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke to Syria’s President Assad on Wednesday by telephone and demanded that he end the crackdown on protesters and impose proposed reforms.

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According to a UN statement, Mr Ban also called on President Assad “to immediately grant access to the United Nations in order to assess the humanitarian needs of the affected civilian population.

“The Secretary-General reiterated his calls for an immediate end to violence against and mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators in Syria, and for an independent investigation of all killings that happened during the protests.”