BEIRUT/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Syrian opposition groups say targeted assassinations of protest leaders and mass arrests signal a tactic change by the Syrian state in attempts to stamp out dissent ahead of an anticipated escalation in nightly demonstrations during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a Syrian network of activists who organize and document anti-government protests in Syria, Tuesday claimed to have evidence suggesting three protest leaders had been killed in targeted attacks based on intelligence and information gathering. LCC said this signaled a move away from indiscriminate fire from Syrian security forces that has characterized efforts to disperse weekly protests.
They said Hady al-Jundi, Khalid al-Afnan and Diyaa al-Najjar were killed in separate attacks in Homs this month.
The flashpoint city in central Syria was the focus of an intense crackdown by security forces last week, following conflicting reports of intersectarian violence in which over 30 people died.
On July 8, they say prominent protest organizer Jundi, 22, was shot by rooftop snipers in what they described as a “safe street.”
Sheikh Khalid al-Afnan, a prominent religious leader of Alfoaarh clan, who led protests in Bayada and Deir Baalba was shot by snipers July 10 while driving with his daughter in a quiet street with no reported violence, the group said.
Diyaa Ramiz al-Najjar, 17, who helped organize protests in the Al-Qusoor neighborhood was killed at the Al-Qadmoos checkpoint on July 1 while attempting to help an injured colleague, they alleged.
“We started to notice in the last two weeks that a disproportionate number of protest leaders were going missing and killed, when there were no protests happening,” said Rami Nakhla, a Beirut-based activist.
“We have reason to believe other leaders are being targeted.
“When you start to collect intelligence on people and target them in nonconflict situations this is political assassination,” he said.
Syria also sent troop reinforcements to two Damascus suburbs Tuesday, human rights activist said, ahead of Ramadan, which begins next week. The move by security forces appeared to be an attempt to prevent widescale demonstrations during the Muslim month of fasting from dawn to dusk.
Rami Abdul-Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the Associated Press that hundreds of soldiers and plainclothes policemen were being sent to the capital’s suburbs of Zabadani and Moaddamiyeh. He said dozens of people were detained starting late Monday and into Tuesday, including many in the Damascus suburb of Qadam.
Another human rights activist, Syria-based Mustafa Osso said more than 200 were detained in the southern province of Deraa, where the uprising was sparked mid-March.
On Monday, troops shot dead three civilians in central and northern Syria, Abdul-Rahman said. Among the dead was a woman who was shot when her husband did not stop his car at a checkpoint in the northwestern city of Idlib, he said.
Human Rights groups claim that security forces have now killed more than 1,500 people since protests in the country began in March.
In Washington, director of Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, Radwan Ziadeh told The Daily Star he feared Syrian authorities would soon resort to targeted bombing attacks as the “next stage” of the a determined attempt to stamp out what had become an entrenched protest movement.
Numerous pledges of political reform, including the drafting of a new multiparty bill Monday to allow the formation of opposition political parties alongside the ruling Baath party have failed to mollify opposition groups demanding nothing less than the downfall of the state and the resignation of President Bashar Assad.
But Syrian authorities are showing no sign of giving up, he said.
“Unfortunately I think we are going to see a lot more loss of life,” he said.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres declared Tuesday that Assad must step down, during an unprecedented news conference with Arab media.
Israel’s government has largely kept quiet as anti-government protests swept the Arab world in recent months. It was the first time an Israeli leader has openly called for the end of the Syrian state.