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Syrian troops move against opposition in Dair Alzour

Regime's forces enter the eastern Syrian city with tanks and gunfire as mosques summon the faithful to prayers.

August 07, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi | Los Angeles Times
  • Video still taken from footage posted to the Internet said to be from the city of Dair Alzour during an attack by Syrian troops Sunday.
Video still taken from footage posted to the Internet said to be from the… (YouTube )

Reporting from Beirut — Tanks and troops stormed the eastern city of Dair Alzour early Sunday, launching yet another assault on enclaves in open revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

According to accounts compiled by the activist network Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, the military entered nearly every single district of the Euphrates River city, which lies close to the Iraqi border.

In video footage posted to the Internet, gunfire and explosions could be heard as mosques summoned the faithful to dawn prayers. Another piece of video footage showed black smoke rising from the city. Near-constant gunfire could be heard in another amateur video segment, though it was unclear whether Assad's gunmen were firing at residents or into the air in an attempt to frighten an emboldened population back into submission.

Authorities sealed off the city's entrances just as they did during a similar assault that left as many as 200 dead in the city of Hama exactly a week ago. Almost all journalists have been barred from Syria.

The activist network cited residents as saying at least some members of the military had defected to the five-month-old opposition movement in the Joura district. "The defected soldiers are trying to protect the residents from a storming of the city by the military and shabiha," or pro-regime forces, said a circular distributed by the activists.

Assad, whose loyalists claim they are fighting armed extremists, risks further angering the international community by launching the assault. The United Nations Security Council last week condemned Assad's crackdown on peaceful protesters, vowing to revisit the matter in a week. For the first time this weekend, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which represents the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula monarchies, condemned the violence in Syria.

On Saturday, an Iranian opposition website linked to the movement led by reformers Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, figureheads of a 2009 revolt against the regime in Tehran, issued a statement voicing solidarity with the protesters.

"The Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope expresses its profound sympathy with the seekers of freedom and democracy in Syria, and calls on the brutal and autocratic establishment in Damascus to cease the slaughter of its citizens, to honor their democratic and humane demands, and to stand accountable," said the statement posted to opposition websites.

Sunday's assault further risks plunging Syria into civil war. Dair Alzour is a heavily Sunni Muslim tribal area, with strong kinship ties to neighboring Iraq. By launching an all-out offensive, Assad, a member of Syria's minority Allawite Muslim community, risks drawing the ire of tribes that often live by ancient codes of retribution and are better armed than most Syrians.

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