Ramadan starts tomorrow, and it would appear that Syrian security forces are mounting a bloody crackdown ahead of the holiday. The epicenter of the violence is in Hama, a town best known in the outside world for a massacre perpetrated by the current Syrian president’s father in 1982.
“Today we are witnessing a major assault,” said Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committee, an opposition group that helps organize and document protests. “It is a last-minute attempt by the regime to reclaim cities that it lost control of.”
The fiercest operation was against the central city of Hama, where at least 49 people were killed, the committee said. Activists offered different accounts of the toll, some far higher. The numbers were impossible to immediately confirm, on a dramatic, confusing day punctuated by rumors of military desertions, calls for revenge, and government claims of armed opponents firing at civilians that seemed to test logic.
Since June, Hama, a city of 800,000 people, has been largely free of security forces, allowing it to assert a measure of independence. In recent weeks, residents have built makeshift barricades of everything from street lights to cinderblocks and sandbags to prevent security forces from re-entering. The defenses, however, stood little chance against tanks and armored vehicles, which began their assault from four directions before dawn.
“It appears on the ground that the Syrian government has chosen to engage in full-scale warfare against its own people,” said J.J. Harder, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. “This is a regime that continues to surprise us by how horrific it can be.”
Earlier today, I noticed an eerie hashtag, #ramadanmassacre, from scores of twitter users I follow for news out of Syria. This is a typical sentiment:
“Instead of wishing each other a blessed Ramadan, we are counting our dead, our wounded & all our broken homes. #RamadanMassacre#Syria”
This grainy video purports to show regime tanks rolling into Hama today.
So far, the Security Council has been somewhat paralyzed in its ability to react to this crisis because of opposition from Russia and China. Perhaps this fresh round of shocking violence will finally shake the Council into action.