200 quit Syria’s ruling party to protest crackdown

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BEIRUT: More than 200 members have quit Syria’s ruling Baath party in the southern province at the epicenter of the country’s uprising to protest President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on opponents, a human rights activist said Thursday.

Mustafa Osso said another 30 resigned in the coastal city of Banias, adding that most of those who quit were lower-rank members.

Even though they are still small in scope — the Baath party counts more than a million members in Syria — such walkouts were unimaginable before the uprising began.

A resident of the city of Daraa said Thursday that most of the resignations came from among Baath members in the town of Inkhil. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Syria’s uprising against Assad’s authoritarian regime started in Daraa, the provincial capital, on March 15.

Assad has tried to crush the revolt — the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty. More than 450 people have been killed across Syria in the crackdown, with 120 dead over the weekend.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said Thursday the latest updated death toll his group had was 454. He said they have names of 68 soldiers who also died in the violence, raising the total to over 500.

He also said that since Wednesday, security forces carrying lists of wanted people have detained dozens around the country.

Daraa resident Abdullah Abazeid said military operations were going on in the city Thursday, with troops using heavy machine guns. He added that snipers shot dead more people and that 42 have died since the military descended on Daraa on Monday.

Abazeid said the latest deaths include six-year-old girl Majd Rifai, hit by a sniper Wednesday on the roof of her parents’ apartment. He added that pro-government gunmen known as shabiha damaged a large numbers of shops in the city.

He said the city was still without telephones, electricity and water and lacked food and children’s milk formula. Abazeid said some parents were giving their infants water and sugar for lack of powder milk.

Also Thursday, nine Syrian human rights groups said authorities detained Rasim Atassi, senior member of the Arab organization for Human Rights.

So far, the repression has only emboldened the protesters who started their revolt with calls for modest reforms but are now increasingly demanding Assad’s downfall.

Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

Two residents in Daraa said Wednesday that at least five army officers had sided with demonstrators, and conscripted soldiers sent into the city were quietly refusing orders to detain people at checkpoints and were allowing some people through to get scarce supplies. But the Syrian government denied that there had been any splits in the military, which is seen as fiercely loyal to Assad. The army also denied any defections.
Assad has blamed most of the unrest on a "foreign conspiracy" and armed thugs, not true reform-seekers.

Eyewitness accounts coming out of Syria have caused world leaders to increase their criticism of the Assad regime. The governments of five European nations summoned Syrian ambassadors Wednesday in a coordinated demand that Assad stop shooting at his people. Germany said sanctions were possible if the crackdown didn’t ease, echoing remarks by Britain’s foreign secretary a day earlier.

The UN Security Council failed to agree Wednesday on a statement circulated by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal condemning the violence in Syria. During consultations, several members — including Lebanon — indicated they were opposed, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

Security Council statements to the media must be approved by consensus.

US officials have said Washington has begun drawing up targeted sanctions against him, his family and his inner circle to boost pressure to halt the repression.


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