As Syria teetered on the brink of civil war, the Canadian computer
programmer who gained fame by being "rendered" to Syria by the United
States, and being jailed and tortured there for a year, is charging that Syrian
President Basher al-Assad is "committing political suicide" by the cruel and
inhuman methods he is employing to quell anti-government protests in his
Maher Arar, who was spirited away from Kennedy International Airport in a
case of mistaken identity for which the US has refused to apologize, was
released after a year by the Syrians with no charges against him. Arar, A
Canadian citizen born in Syria, wrote in an article in Prism, an online journal
he founded last year:
"I believe [al-Assad] has committed so many mistakes the most
serious of which is his unwillingness to understand that the continued
use of state propaganda against the protesters (by accusing them of
being Israeli infiltrators) in order to justify the use of lethal force
against them is a tactic that does not work any more in this 21st
He added that Assad is living "in a state of denial." Assad's "other big
mistake is his total reliance on the security and intelligence people who seem
to have always influenced his political decisions over the last 11 years," Arar
Meanwhile, human rights groups are demanding that Deraa, the war-torn
Southern city where Assad unleashed his military on civilian citizens, be
allowed to receive aid. They say there are acute shortages of medical
supplies, food and water.
An estimated 500 peaceful demonstraters have been killed and thousands
wounded by Syrian army soldiers.
Nadim Houry, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told the
Guardian newspaper, "The siege should be lifted, food allowed in, and
HRW said on April 25, Syrian security troops raided Daraa and shot citizens
indiscriminately, leading to the deaths of dozens of civilians, according to
news agencies and witnesses. Authorities were aiming to suppress peaceful
protests demanding political reforms that started in mid-March.
In later developments, HRW reported that hundreds of Syrian troops
stormed the Damascus suburb of Saqba overnight - breaking into houses and
arresting about 300 people, witnesses say.
Tanks and troops are also reported to have been sent to other trouble spots,
amid fresh reports of anti-government demonstrations in Homs and Hama.
The moves came despite appeals from the UN and US for President Bashar
al-Assad to end the violence against protesters.
Activists, meanwhile, were vowing to stage a "Day of Defiance" on Friday.
More than 500 Syrians are thought to have been killed since the protests
started seven weeks ago.
At least 2,500 others have been detained, although rights groups say the
figure could be much higher.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is reporting that "The images
coming out of Syria are desperate and distressing. A video that we're pretty
sure is from Deraa shows nothing short of a massacre - dozens of people
killed in the streets, people shot through the head, others bleeding to death
on the ground."
The BBC says "they appear to be mostly young and unarmed people who
took part a few weeks ago in nothing more than a protest for change.
The few people managing to get out of Syria and across the border into
Jordan are very frightened and wary of speaking out. But one man who came
out this morning told me three members of his own family had been killed.
He says the army is now in Deraa literally washing away the blood from the
streets. This is in anticipation of a visit by a UN human rights delegation in
the next few days."
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said Syrian
authorities imposed complete siege on the city including a media blackout.
"The Syrian authorities bear sole responsibility for the safety of journalists.
Authorities have to immediately declare reasons and places of their
detention. Authorities are responsible for their disappearance and have to
respond to allegations that the journalists were abducted" by government
operatives," the organization said.
The siege on the city has been the most brutal element of a vicious campaign
to crush dissent that has led to widespread international condemnation. The
Red Cross on Tuesday called on Syria to allow its health workers safe access
to people injured in bloody protests and let it visit those who have been
"We need to have larger access, especially in the south, and here I talk about
Deraa," ICRC spokesman Hisham Hassan told a news briefing in Geneva.
The Guardian newspaper reports, "There is growing evidence of a
humanitarian crisis in the city. No one has been allowed in and reports
trickling out paint a devastating picture of a population suffering from a lack
of medical supplies, food and water. Communications are still cut off. Few
agencies are licensed to work in Syria and those who are have specific
remits to work with Iraqi refugees, who fled in the wake of the US war on
Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, some activists expressed concerns
that protests could fizzle out as Syrians, "who have braved security services'
gunfire, fear becoming one of thousands being rounded up." But other
observers are saying that the Syrians "have lost their fear of fear" and are
determined to remain in the streets despite the all-too-real possibility that
they will be killed or wounded.
The Guardian quoted the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights as saying that hundreds had been charged with "maligning the
prestige of the state", which carries a three-year sentence.
"I would rather be killed than be locked up and tortured," said one young
man in the capital, echoing many others. "We know what happens to people
Amnesty International, which has not been allowed access to Syria, has
revealed details of detainees who said they were beaten with batons and
cables and subjected to harsh conditions. One said that after being stripped
and beaten he was made to lick his blood off the floor.