Syrian army withdraws from Hama as outrage mounts
DAMASCUS: Syrian security forces shot dead 16 people in the protest hub of Homs on Wednesday while withdrawing from the flashpoint city of Hama after a 10-day operation, amid growing outrage over the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
Meanwhile, the United States imposed sanctions on Syria’s largest commercial bank and largest mobile phone operator, tightening the noose on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The measures came a day after a defiant Assad pledged to pursue a relentless battle against “terrorist groups,” seemingly oblivious to the mounting international pressure against his regime.
Security forces “fired indiscriminately on residents of the Baba Amro neighbourhood, killing 11 people,” one of the activists told AFP in Nicosia by telephone from the central city. The toll was later raised to 16, and at least another 20 wounded.
“Some bodies are lying in the sun and people cannot remove them because of the shooting,” one activist said.
Meanwhile, an AFP correspondent on a government-sponsored tour said dozens of military vehicles crammed with soldiers streamed out of Hama to which residents were trickling back.
“The army units have gone back to their barracks after having accomplished their mission, and residents, happy to be rid of the armed gangs who tried to sow discord among the population, have returned home,” a high-ranking officer said.
That was confirmed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who sent to Hama his ambassador to witness the pullout.
“Our ambassador went to Hama and said that the tanks, security forces had started to leave Hama. This is highly important to show that our initiatives had positive results,” Erdogan said in Ankara.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said “the critical thing is that Syria should be open to the world for the developments to be followed. The most important tool to end the speculations and debate is free media access.”
Meanwhile, a military source said troops were also pulling out of one town in the province of Idlib bordering Turkey.