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Syrian chemical attack spurs finger-pointing inside Assad regime

Antakya, Turkey // United Nations weapons inspectors will today examine the site of a chemical weapons attack in Damascus that killed hundreds, as the first signs of finger-pointing inside the Assad regime began to emerge.

The Syrian government agreed yesterday to cease hostilities in the area while the team goes in and the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said inspectors were “preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities” on the outskirts of the capital.

The attack on Wednesday has galvanised international calls for action against the government of President Bashar Al Assad. Rebels say as many as 1,300 people were killed. One aid agency says thousands were affected and 355 died.

Amid universal acceptance that a chemical nerve agent has been used but disagreement over who used it, there were indications from Damascus that some of the army officers involved had tried to distance themselves from what happened, and insisted they were not told the rockets they were firing were loaded with toxins.

“We have heard from people close to the regime that the chemical missiles were handed out a few hours before the attacks,” said a source from a well-connected family, who has contacts with both the opposition and regime loyalists.

“They didn’t come from the ministry of defence but from air force intelligence, under orders from Hafez Maklouf . The army officers are saying they did not know there were chemical weapons. Even some of the people transporting them are saying they had no idea what was in the rockets – they thought they were conventional explosives.”

Hafez Maklouf, Mr Al Assad’s cousin, commands Syria’s air force intelligence, the most feared of all its secret police branches.

Another account of what may have taken place has been put forward by the opposition Syrian National Coalition, based on a timeline from residents inside the affected areas and information collected from sources inside the regime who leak information to the rebels.

The SNC said rockets loaded with chemicals were delivered to Gen Tahir Hamid Khalil and launched from an army base housing the 155 Brigade, a unit of the 4th Division, in the Qalamoon mountains north of Damascus.

Mahar Al Assad, the Syrian president’s brother, commands the 4th Division, an ultra-loyalist force with a key role in repressing the uprising since it began in March 2011, and, more recently, heavily involved in combat with rebels around Damascus.

After a night of fierce fighting on Tuesday in an area on the edge of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta – once known for its clean natural water and lush orchards – regime troops moved back, leaving only aircraft overhead, the SNC said.

At 2.30am on Wednesday, regime forces under the command of Gen Ghassan Abbas began launching the rockets, 16 of which were aimed at the eastern suburbs of Damascus, and hit Zamalka and Ain Tarma, densely populated areas in the Eastern Ghouta.

As opposition emergency services responded to those initial chemical attacks, rockets armed with high explosive warheads were fired into the same area, hitting ambulance teams as they tried to help victims of the chemical strikes.

At 4.21am, 18 more missiles were fired into eastern Damascus by troops loyal to Mr Al Assad, the SNC said. Another two missiles were aimed at Moadamiya, to the south-west of Damascus, an area known locally as the Western Ghouta.

By 6am, dozens of people from Moadamiya had been taken to a local field hospital suffering from the effects of exposure to a still unidentified poison gas.

At least five poison gas rockets were fired, according to the SNC, four landing in the Eastern Ghouta and one in Moadamiya. Strong winds pushed the gases out from their impact area in Zamalka across to Erbin, a neighbouring district, where more people died.

According to the SNC’s account, loyalist forces close to the attack area were issued orders from a “high level” to wear gas masks in anticipation of the attacks.

Syrian state media and the insurgents have continued to wage a war of words over the chemical attacks.

After initially denying chemical agents had been released by either side, the Syrian authorities are now vigorously blaming rebel forces.

The rebels have posted videos online of hollow rocket tubes found in the eastern suburbs where the attacks took place. The missile casings, about two metres long, appear to match those used in previous strikes by regime forces.

Russia, a close ally of Mr Al Assad, said it welcomed the decision by Damascus to allow the UN inspection. The Russian government, like Syria’s other close ally Iran, does not dispute that chemical weapons were used in the Damascus suburb. They blame anti-government insurgents for the attacks.

In Washington, a US official said “there is very little doubt” that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians.

The Obama administration earlier accused the Assad government of delaying UN inspectors to allow the evidence to degrade.

The agreement by Syria to permit UN investigators to carry out a first-hand examination of a chemical weapons attack came as international pressure built for a retaliatory strike against the Assad regime. The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, said yesterday that the US military, which is repositioning its forces in the eastern Mediterranean to give President Obama the option for an armed strike, was ready to act if asked.

On Saturday, the humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said 3,600 patients displaying “neurotoxic symptoms” had been admitted to Syrian hospitals it supports, and 355 of those patients had died.

psands@thenational.ae

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Regime “chemical strikes” in preparation for Damascus offensive

Jobar smoke. (YouTube)

    The Bashar al-Assad regime conducted its reported chemical weapon strikes Wednesday on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus in preparation for a military campaign on the embattled areas, an activist told NOW amid reports of heavy shelling outside the Syrian capital.

     

    “The regime was unable to get into [Damascus’] eastern Ghouta [areas] for ten months, so it resorted to using chemical weapons as an introduction to a surge in the area,” Mohammad Salaheddine—an activist media figure in the Damascus suburbs—told NOW hours after reports emerged that over 700 civilians had been killed in sarin gas strikes outside Damascus.

     

    As the death toll for the attacks continued to mount, heavy artillery and missile fire rained downed on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reporting that regime forces had begun a campaign outside the capital.

     

    The activist Shaam News Network said in the early afternoon that surface-to-surface missiles were striking the Jobar area of the Syrian capital, while Salaheddine warned that regime “convoys are mobilizing in Zabaltani and [Damascus’ nearby] Abbasid Square [area] to surround Jobar.”

     

    “Air Force Intelligence units are coming from Harasta to hit Zamalka and Ain Tarma and inner [areas of the eastern] Ghouta [suburbs],” the activist also said.

     

    However, Salaheddine added that “[regime] tanks have not been able to come into [rebel-held eastern Ghouta] yet. The Free Syrian Army destroyed one of them, and there are very strong clashes now.”

     

    “Now, Zamalka and Ain Tarma are almost completely empty. The residents have left to Ghouta proper, to Al-Basateen and other [areas]” in order to escape the affected areas, he also said.

     

    Meanwhile, an activist told NOW via Skype that regime forces were also pressing a military campaign in the Moadamiyeh area southwest of Damascus where he is based, but added that the outcome of the clashes remained unclear as heavy fighting continued to rage.

     

    Moadamiyeh had also reportedly been hit by chemical strike in the series of alleged pre-dawn regime chemical strikes, with the activist Local Coordination Committees saying over 76 civilians had died from exposure to poison gases in the area.

     

    According to the LCC, “over 755 martyrs fell due to poison gas [strikes] in the Ain Tarma and Zamalka areas [of the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus] as well as in Moadamiyeh.”

     

    The Syrian Support Group, a Washington-based organization that advocates for increased support for the Supreme Military Command of the FSA, told NOW that the women and children were sleeping when the attack occurred, and that most of the victims therefore suffocated to death.

     

    SSG also reported that the concentrated sarin gas was delivered to the suburbs via four Grad missiles.

     

    Saleheddine told NOW that the series of pre-dawn strikes in eastern Damascus occurred at 2:20 a.m. in the Jobar, Zamalka and Ain Tarma suburbs.

     

    Read this article in Arabic

    source

    Halfiya

    Meet the Assadosphere, the Online Defenders of Syria’s Butcher

    That would be a heavenly Bashar Assad, dictator of Syria, arm-wrestling the demonic Uncle Sam. Is that Mount Doom in the background? Photo: Instagram/Bashar4Ever

    You might think it’s hard to defend Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator responsible for the murder of 40,000 human beings. You must be new to the internet.

    Assad doesn’t have many allies IRL — Iran and Russia are about the only ones remaining. But as the Syrian rebellion stretches into its 20th month, he’s found (and paid for) a whole heap of friends online, who warn of an impending NATO invasion to dominate Syria; secret CIA shipments of weapons to terrorist groups; and, of course, that Assad’s enemies are all really Jews. Welcome to the Assadosphere — on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and the web.

    Assad has maintained a robust propaganda presence for years: Remember the infamous Vogue profile of his wife Asma, which praised the “wildly democratic” Assad family right as it began its wave of bloodshed. Assad’s online buddies are the next wave of that propaganda: They’ve taken a defense of his regime viral, to the point where they don’t need to take their marching orders from Damascus. They’re contesting the web and social-media space that would otherwise be filled with recitations of Assad’s war crimes — and flooding the zone.

    We’ve seen these characters show up occasionally in our comment threads and Facebook pages. But the most efficient portal into online Assad apologias comes from the Twitter hashtag #RealSyria. There, you’ll learn that the Free Syrian Army, “aka al Qaeda” is “preparing suits etc. for chemical weapons false flag.” You’ll see links to YouTube clips from the “Eretz Zen Channel” to learn how the rebels torture citizens with “flesh burning materials.” (Not that said rebels are in said video.) And you’ll find people skeptical of the “HUUURR DURRRR” that that nice Mr. Assad would ever use his “supposed” chemical weapons. It’s not like an Assad spokesman warned the world last July that “these types of weapons are [under] the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.”

    According to Bashar Assad’s defenders on Instagram, the U.S. media hides from you how the Jews control the Syrian rebellion, or something. Image: Instagram/Laith Belal
    Then there’s the News About Syria-English blog, Facebook page and Google+ account. It invariably describes the Syrian rebels as “terrorists”; takes at face value Assad’s declarations that he’ll “not use chemical weapons, if it possesses any, whatever the circumstances“; and warns that last year’s war in Libya has yet to satisfy NATO’s “thirst for blood.”

    And on like that. SyriaTribune maintains a YouTube channel stocked with clips from — surprise — Vladimir Putin’s Russia Today portraying Assad as the victim of a bloody-minded western conspiracy. A self-described French intellectual named Thierry Meyssan — author of 9/11 The Big Lie — reveals that TV images purporting to show Assad’s massacres of civilians were prepared by the CIA, along with White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, and “aims at demoralizing the Syrians in order to pave the way for a coup d’etat.” The #FakeRevolution hashtag on Instagram provides pictorial, meme-filled boosterism for Bashar, like a screengrab from Time’ app kindly telling user mybubb1e to stop voting for Assad for Person of the Year or Hillary Clinton with flames shooting out of her eyes and ear, courtesy of Bashar4Ever.

    Now, the Syrian rebellion is eclectic, and it includes some rather extreme elements –including al-Qaida-aligned terrorists. Human Rights Watch has borne witness to its willingness to execute and torture detainees. But human rights abuses can’t be the real issue for these web and social-media accounts: if so, they’d be turning on Assad, who drops cluster bombs on Syrian cities and has killed more civilians over the last 20 months than perhaps any other despot in power. And anyone defending Assad because they hate the idea of another U.S. invasion might consider that the Obama administration evidently wants to stay out of Syria at all costs. Yes, the Syrian rebels might actually acquire chemical weapons in the wake of Assad’s downfall, and that’s legitimately worrisome, but perhaps some ire might be spared for the regime that, you know, created that chemical stockpile.

    Of course, the Syrian rebels use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for everything from propaganda to weapons training, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that Assad’s defenders seek to contest that online space. It’s the internet; people say terrible things on it. But the Assadosphere is the sort of thing that Block and Unfollow functions were created for.

    source

    How to Advocate the Capitulation of a Revolution Without Actually Using the Word “Surrender”

    September 8, 2012

    A few days ago, the Open Democracy website published an article by “Rita from Syria”, a Damascus based Syrian activist. Titled “The FSA: how to lose support and alienate people in no time“, the writer bemoaned the growing trend towards the militarization of the initially peaceful Syrian Revolution. Civilian activists now feel increasingly insignificant and sidelined, unable to shape events. Syrian towns and villages that shelter the Free Syrian Army suffer under increasingly bloody reprisals and punitive assaults by the Assad regime. The FSA is accused of “miscalculations”, and challenged to “win back its credibility”.

    The most telling sentence in the entire article is a quote from “Raghda”, a woman who recently lost her job at a publishing firm; “I just want to continue my life. I don’t see an end to this armed conflict. I agree with the rightful demands of the opposition, but if this means bringing a halt to my life then I will stand against them”

    Which is as close one can get to advocating capitulation, without actually using the word “surrender”

    Let us be clear on one thing; Assad cannot win this fight. He cannot defeat a guerrilla movement that has spread to nearly every single village, town and city in the county. The FSA, with little to no outside support, has managed the grind the region’s largest military into a stalemate. Whereas in Hama this time last year, twenty tanks were sufficient to bring the entire city to heel after the massive demonstrations in the Orontes Square, now those same twenty tanks are the regime’s loses on a good day.

    So what’s a tin-pot dictator to do? What every tyrant on the ropes has done; go after the segment of ones opponents lest able to defend themselves. Just as Hitler desperately tried to knock the British out of World War 2 by indiscriminately pounding London with V-1 and V-2 rockets (thereby killing more civilians in England than his army managed to do on the field in the European theaters of war), the regime’s policy and actions has been to subject areas sympathetic to the FSA to the maximum amount of suffering and bloodshed as possible.

    If Assad cannot beat the FSA’s soldiers in Aleppo, his airforce bombs their home towns from the air. Eventually, the logic goes, the misery of the civilian population will be so great, that they will discourage or actively deny the FSA shelter and space for movement. In the case of the recently unemployed Raghda, that seems to have worked. The only way the FSA can lose this fight is if enough of the Syrian population become convinced that the losses and suffering are too great, and the prospects for overthrowing the regime too remote.

    In any war, the resilience of the societies engaged in war matters as much as the number and quality of arms those societies deploy. Long before Hitler got around to invading France in 1940, a defeatist mentality had already taken hold of much of French political society and its upper military echelons. The Battle of France had been lost long before the first German tanks broke through the Ardennes.

    Rita is correct when she writes “FSA leaders should take heed that a guerrilla army can only attain success if it is mindful of its relationship to the people”. However, laying the blame at the feet of the FSA is misplaced, even if it is convenient from Rita’s point of view. No army in the world can protect every civilian center if its opponent engages in a deliberate policy of targeting those areas. It is the FSA’s job to wear down as much of the regime’s military machinery as possible, and it is the civilian opposition’s job to make sure that the regime pays, in terms of political and popular support, as a result of any disproportionate and indiscriminate retribution by the Assad army against the civilian population.

    Or maybe scope of responsibilities isn’t so clear cut in the minds of the revolution’s civilian activists. To quote Rita’s article;

    “Armed with a deep conviction in our revolution rather than any heavy weapons, the embryonic FSA used to keep watch in the alleys and alert us to the coming of regime forces and the shabiha.”

    Alleys. Alleys and side-streets. Defectors, risking their lives by carrying arms to defend a 15 minute demonstration in some alleyway or side-street, the end result of which would be a few minutes uploaded to Youtube or some material for Al-Jazeera to stream. Amazing that the FSA waited so long and so patiently before concluding, correctly, that the regime was never going to fall through flash demonstrations in some darkened neighborhood corner. The civilian activists had plenty of time to make some tangible headway, to provide some accomplishments to justify the thousands of dead, thousands more wounded, and untold tens of thousands of disappeared and imprisoned.

    A military aspect of a society only rises in prominence above that of the civilian, when the latter proves utterly incapable of meeting the challenges of the day. If the civilian activists feel sidelined, it is because in the 20 months of the revolution, they have in all honesty provided next to no tangible accomplishments on behalf of the revolution.

    The Assad regime is one that has, as the most recent ICG report stated, mutated into little more than a militia. It doesn’t care for the loss of its border points with Turkey, or the loss of the areas in the north east of Syria to Kurdish control, as long as Assad’s core constituency retains power in the ever decreasing areas still under their control. Do the civilian “no arms lets turn the clock back to when we were demonstrating in the side streets” camp have ANY plan or solution to deal with such a regime? Not likely, if present perceptions of the SNC are anything to go by.

    What exactly is required of the FSA? To lay down their arms? And will that turn to clock back to the days before the Dar’a protests? Anyone who thinks is is incredibly naive. A regime that triumphed through the use of terror and brute force will feel that the same formula is an acceptable one to apply to maintain power. Periodic mass arrests and show trials will be the norm. Towns and cities that were most prominent in the revolution will be neglected economically, its people cut off from government jobs. Every once in a while a staged car bomb will go off, to keep people on edge and remind them of the ever present danger of a return to the “bad old days” if the regime wasn’t around to “maintain stability”. And in thirty years’ time, little Hafiz will take the reins of power. But hey, at least Raghda got to “live her life”.

    Which is the part of the article I personally find most disgusting and reprehensible. Saying that one is for the revolution as long as it doesn’t get in the way of one’s work, career, dates, love-life, TV-shows, is akin to saying that one would like to compete in the Olympics, if it wasn’t for all the hard training required.

    Yep, I’d like to buy a house, if it wasn’t for the mortgage payments needed.

    I’d like to go to Harvard to study medicine, but damn those SATs and entrance exams are a real roadblock.

    I’d looooove to live in a democracy, as long as someone else is doing the heavy lifting and suffering, and a civil and free society is handed to me on a silver plater. Oh, and someone else can vote for me and keep the vigilance and sense of civic responsibility required to maintain any democracy.

    One would have thought that the revolution would have at least freed us from the idea that we are entitled to the best the world has to offer without the need to put in any effort. Sadly, we are not all Al-Assads and get to inherit a country from our daddies. To say that one is against the revolution because it has gotten in the way of our lives, is tantamount to surrender. Our will has been broken, the price has become too high to pay. Brute force and tyranny have won, and just as long as the tyrants leave us to return to our miserable existence, we will soon forget the more than 20,000 Syrians whose lives were cut short, or the thousands of wounded and crippled, or the hundreds of thousands of refugees for whom returning will never be an option. People for whom carrying on with their “interrupted” lives is not an option.

    If the civilian activists feel impotent, it is because for many months they acted like they were impotent, with only the FSA between them and annihilation at the hands of Assad’s shabihas. For how long was the FSA expected to carry and babysit an ineffectual civilian movement. No one wants to turn to arms as a first choice, but the Syrian Revolution found itself doing so as a result of the situation forced on it. For over a month, Baba Amr in Homs was subjected to massive artillery and tank assaults. The world community yawned a collective yawn and changed the channel. Were it not for the FSA, non of the 24,000 civilians who made it out, or the well known media personalities and foreign journalists trapped inside, would have come out of there.

    If the civilian activists want to regain leadership of the revolution, then it is about time they did something to earn the mantle of leadership. The British did not whine and blame Churchill for the destruction wrought by Hitler’s bombers on their cities, and as a result their “finest hour” has become the stuff of legend.

    The only way Assad can win this war is if we hand him victory. I myself spent ten days on the edges of Baba Amr while the army pounded the area. My close family has lost two homes, completely destroyed in the fighting. I have relatives who were and are imprisoned. Several distant family members were lost to us. I know full well the burden of taking on a vicious, unrestrained and barbaric regime. If the civilian activists have a better way than the one the FSA is pursuing, no one will be happier than me to hear it.

    Otherwise, talk of the FSA laying down its arms is just a not-too-thinly-veiled plea by those whose will have been broken, for the revolution to surrender. I don’t judge people harshly if they feel they cannot carry the burden anymore, everyone has their own circumstances and pain-threshold. But I at least expect them to have the self-respect and decency to call what they are asking for by its proper name; capitulation and surrender to the Assad tyranny. 

    SOURCE

    Syria’s despair has a glimmer of hope

    Phil Sands

    A fighter injured in the Arqub neighbourhood of Aleppo is taken to hospital as violence in the city intensifies. Activists say with skill and a large slice of luck Lakhdar Brahimi has a chance of breaking the cycle.

    DAMASCUS // Amid universally low expectations that United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi can bring peace to Syria, some grassroots activists nonetheless say he may yet help to steer the country out of a deepening crisis.

    The veteran Algerian diplomat replaced Kofi Annan, who resigned in “frustration and disgust” in August. Mr Brahimi described his task as almost impossible and said only last week there was “no prospect for today or tomorrow” that the civil war would end.

    But a month after his appointment some activists say that with skill and a large slice of luck Mr Brahimi has a chance of breaking the cycle of violence.

    “The situation on the ground is so dire that this might help him make a breakthrough. Even a small one would be important,” one said.

    The activist met Mr Brahimi last month during the envoy’s fact-finding visit to Syria.

    At the time it had been reported that Mr Brahimi had a meeting with the officially tolerated political opposition, figures with little credibility inside Syria who are widely seen as regime proxies, condoned by the authorities to show the outside world Syria does tolerate dissent.

    While in Damascus however, the UN envoy also met well-connected grassroots activists involved in protests and medical relief efforts.

    “If Mr Brahimi can help reduce violence – we are no longer even talking about a complete halt, just to scale it back – then he might be able to make some progress,” the activist said.

    “He needs a quick win to show his credibility and to give the opposition faith that his process and methods will work. If he can reduce violence and get meaningful numbers of political prisoners freed and returned to their families, that will give us a narrow platform to build on,” he said.

    Mr Brahimi was appointed special envoy to Syria after Mr Annan’s six-point peace plan collapsed. Under the terms of that agreement – signed up to by the president, Bashar Al Assad, and opposition factions – both sides were required to observe a ceasefire, political prisoners were to be freed and negotiations were to begin.

    The ceasefire lasted a matter of hours and, despite the presence of UN observers, none of the six points was implemented.

    Since the Annan plan failed, violence has only intensified, with air strikes, artillery bombardments and street fighting now routine across much of the country.

    Rights groups say upwards of 30,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March, most of them civilians, and the UN says more than 2.5 million Syrians need humanitarian aid.

    According to the activist, Mr Brahimi made it clear the opposition would have to make concessions if the bloodshed were to end.

    “I told him we realise that,” the activist said. “It will not be easy to convince the street that it needs to compromise after so much suffering, but if we get some progress on violence and prisoners we will have a window of opportunity and we can at least try.”

    That window would not stay open indefinitely, the activist said, suggesting concrete progress needed to be made before the end of the year.

    Anti-Assad campaigners who met Mr Brahimi also agreed to a political process without pre-conditions, the activist said. Many opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council and the rebel Free Syrian Army, have insisted Mr Al Assad’s removal would have to come before any talks about a political transition can take place.

    “We need to find a rational, realistic way to bring about political change,” the activist said. “We are open to a transitional government as long as there is a clear timetable and as long as it involves real presidential elections, monitored independently by the United Nations.”

    A political analyst in Damascus said the rapidly worsening situation might work to Mr Brahimi’s advantage.

    “This crisis was never going to end until it had reached every corner or every house in Syria and we are now at that point,” the analyst said. “It is a small chance but if Brahimi can put together the right deal, with the right international backing, a political transition could happen.”

    However. another opposition figure in Damascus dismissed suggestions such a deal could be struck, and said both the fractured opposition and Syrian regime were pretending to cooperate with Mr Brahimi without being willing or able to commit to even small compromises.

    “The equation that got us to this point has not changed, the opposition will not stop until Assad and his regime has gone, and the regime will not leave until it is physically forced to leave,” said the dissident, who was recently freed from jail.

    “The latest UN peace initiative will fail, we are heading into a full scale civil war and there is no end in sight,” he said.

    psands@thenational.ae

    source

    See also this article from the National

    Thousands displaced as Syrian authorities demolish Hama neighborhood

    By Amir Ahmed, CNN
    October 1, 2012 — Updated 0640 GMT (1440 HKT)
    Watch this video

    Fighting rages on in Damascus, Aleppo

    STORY HIGHLIGHTS
    • Forces go door-to-door in Hama telling people to evacuate before demolition begins, residents say
    • Bulldozers have razed 120 buildings and remain active in the area, a resident says
    • The district, which once had 30,000 people, was a hotbed for “peaceful and militant” opposition
    • The razings and intimidation of residents have “only fueled more anger,” the resident adds

    (CNN) — Syrian security forces are overseeing the systematic displacement of thousands and then demolishing their neighborhood in the western flashpoint city of Hama, residents told CNN.

    Tanks completely surround the Mesha Alarbaeen district in Hama — once home to about 30,000 mostly poor residents as well as the hub of opposition activity in the city — as bulldozers operate inside, tearing down homes.

    “So far they have razed 120 buildings,” Osamah, a Hama resident who visited the neighborhood on Sunday, told CNN.

    The neighborhood had been “the main gathering place” for those “peaceful and militant” who oppose President Bashar al-Assad’s government, according to Osamah.

    That is until last June, when the security forces decided to enter the district and completely take it over, several activists said.

    The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported a “massive presence of terrorist armed gangs that threaten” the people of Hama. Other SANA articles referenced how security forces had found large amounts of weapons in the area.

    The government has consistently referred to anti-government forces as terrorists.

    ‘Friends of Syria’ meet in New York

    “The security forces started using artillery fire to shell several positions in the neighborhood,” Abdallah — another resident — told CNN from Meshaa Alarbaeen.

    “Some of the poorest people live here. The security forces targeted their homes indiscriminately. They really tried to make life impossible for the residents.”

    A few weeks ago, security forces allowed bulldozers to enter the district.

    Several amateur videos purportedly shot over the last two weeks support the activists’ claims. They show bulldozers flattening entire blocks while operating under the watchful eyes of security forces.

    Eyewitnesses said security force members have been going building-to-building asking people to evacuate their homes.

    “Most of the residents have left their homes. The majority of them went to neighboring areas in the province. Some are still sleeping in the streets, and only a few of them remain in their homes,” Abdallah said.

    Another resident reached by phone Sunday said she’s been living on the street, along with her two kids, for five days after her husband was detained by authorities and her home was burned. She did not want to be named for safety reasons.

    Some Shabiha — gangs loyal to the regime — resort to other extreme tactics to intimidate those who do not want to leave their homes.

    “A few days ago, a regime loyalist gang stormed one of the activists’ homes and brought out his wife, undressed her and made her stand on tank as it drove through the neighborhood,” Khaled, an eyewitness told CNN.

    Residents said the anti-government sentiment is only growing, even after the razing of homes and intimidation of residents.

    “The government wants to deny the activists popular support through leveling Meshaa Alarbaeen,” Osamah said. “But this incident has only fueled more anger here.”

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