A picture from Syrian anti-regime militants shows an army tank deployed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor last month
The army is preparing to storm the eastern border town of Al-Bukamal, next to Iraq, where "armed groups" have created an "explosive" situation," Al-Watan newspaper reported on Sunday. © - - AFP
A picture from Syrian anti-regime militants shows an army tank deployed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor last month
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AFP
Last updated: July 18, 2011

Syria army 'readies operations' near Iraq border

The army is preparing to storm the eastern border town of Al-Bukamal, next to Iraq, where "armed groups" have created an "explosive" situation," Al-Watan newspaper reported on Sunday.

"The situation in Al-Bukamal is explosive, so the army is preparing to intervene... because the authorities fear an armed revolt in this border town where (insurgents) can easily find logistical and political support," it said.

A civilian was killed in the area on Saturday when security forces opened fire to break up a demonstration against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

But the official SANA news agency spoke of "armed terrorist gangs who stormed a government building and seized the weapons stored there," adding that three security personnel were killed and two kidnapped in the attack.

Since the start of revolts in mid-March, Damascus has consistently blamed the violence racking the country on foreign interference and "armed groups" seeking to "sow chaos."

Al-Watan said the "situation was back to normal" in the central city of Hama, the epicentre of anti-government protests in recent weeks, which had raised fears of a military crackdown.

"The efforts the new governor of Hama has made with civic leaders have borne fruit. The state of civil disobedience which lasted 13 days is over," Al-Watan said.

"With the help of residents, officials have started to remove the roadblocks erected on major thoroughfares," it added.

The residents of Hama had raised barricades to prevent a military operation against the city, where memories of a 1982 crackdown against Islamists that left 20,000 people dead remain fresh.

Activists say security forces have killed least 25 civilians in the flashpoint city since July 5, when Damascus dispatched its tanks in response to an anti-regime demonstration that drew half a million people.

Video footage posted by the Facebook group The Syria Revolution 2011, a motor of the protests, showed thousands of mourners join the funerals of 28 people killed in demonstrations on Friday, most of them in Damascus, where security forces reportedly opened fire.

In Istanbul, hundreds of Syrian dissidents gathered to debate strategies to oust Assad's regime. Participants came from various countries and belonged to many different opposition groups, coordinators said.

Damascus meanwhile prepared a music festival to mark the 11th anniversary of Assad's taking the oath of office as president.

He succeeded his father, Hafez, who died on June 10, 2000, after ruling the country with an iron grip for three decades.

Since the protests began on March 15, 1,419 civilians and 352 members of the security forces have died, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Thousands more people have been arrested.

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