Wednesday 29 June 2011

June 29, 2011 by  
Filed under News, Syrian Revolution

Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre
SUMMARY (29/6/2011): Today was the day the 12th graders finishing their exams got to show that they too want to see the downfall of the regime. The campaign of civil disobedience also entered a new phase. However, whilst electricity and water bills burned, the shells rained down on Jabal Zawiyah, northern Syria, resulting in at least 8 deaths. See the map for more details. Syria – Wednesday 29/6/2011

Today was the day for burning electricity and water bills in order to deprive the regime of a supply of cash which it can use to pay the thugs and shabeeha. More pressure is also being applied on the Syrian pound by encouraging people to withdraw their money from the banks and change it to foriegn currency. Kobani, 29/6/2011

Jabal Zawiyah (29/6/2011): In the last few days we’ve had journalists, the US State Department, even a visiting Congressman, making positive statements about the “national dialogue” which the regime is allegedly embarking on. Unfortunately, this is what the national dialogue sounds like. Rami village, Jabal Zawiyah 29/6/2011

Deir Az Zur (29/6/2011): What happens when the students finish their last exams in your country? Maybe they burn their schoolbooks or go to a cafe or bar with their classmates to celebrate? Well, in Syria they start to protest against the regime. Deir Az Zur 29/6/2011

“Committees for the Reinstatement of a Civil Society” (CRCS) by http://on.fb.me/lbHtME on Wednesday, 29 June 2011 at 19:05

“Committees for the Reinstatement of a Civil Society” (CRCS) announce resumption of their activities after they were stopped due to the repression they were subject to through tracking and detaining most of their members between 2006 and 2011. The committees would like to emphasize the principle they have always called for, that nationalism, freedom, justice and equality should be the basis upon which any new political system in our country should be built; that is if the regime really wants to solve the current crisis through the actual implementation of people’s demands which the regime has admitted that they are fair, legal demands but has not worked towards answering them as yet.

CRCS believe that Syria is currently passing a critical stage in its history, and the regime will have to choose one of two options: either to continue its violent repressive solution which would eventually lead to disastrous outcomes opening the doors to all kinds of threats and dangers, from internal partitioning to foreign intervening or invasion; or make use of the current uprising to rescue our nation from the complicated dilemma that started in 1963 and led us to the current situation, which we do not believe will be overcome except by building a new civilized and democratic Syria, a country where all citizens, males and females, live in an atmosphere of freedom, justice and equality without discrimination for any reason.

CRCS praises the aspects of political maturity of the political parties of the Syrian opposition and the various social organizations; a maturity shown by what has been suggested so far by religious and political scholars in the form of analyses and solutions to the current issues supporting the people demands in political freedom and the transition to a democratic civil state that supports human rights, rights of citizenship and fair law enforcement, which, we believe, would strengthen the relationships between the people of the country, and would eventually lead to a stronger, more stable country. The committees, in addition, highly appreciate the persistence and perseverance of the Syrian citizens who showed moral and political immunity against several malicious attempts aimed at eliciting differences within the Syrian community, and who, at the same time, insisted on the peaceful nature of their protests calling for freedom and dignity, and avoided violence and sectarianism at this critical stage of their history.

CRCS pledge to continue their support to the rights and freedom of the Syrian people, and will stay in contact with all the different components of the Syrian community to defend its fair demands. The committees do not believe that they replace any party or organisation. They would always adopt common, agreed policies in their work to co-ordinate and unify the opposition forces, and convey rational, civil thinking to the widest sectors of the community, as they believe this would help the sought-after transition to a community with social equality, democracy and freedom.

Damascus on the 28th of June, 2011


Translated Videos of the “Syrian Revolution 2011″:

This video is the very first RAW video we tranStaff warrant officer Mustafa Yihia al As’ad defectsslated. The courage of this man and his sentence “the world must see” triggered the idea of translating videos… In Syria (Daraa): Camera Vs. Guns “The World

NOW! Lebanon
[local time] 22:17 People are calling for overthrowing the regime in a protest in Homs’ neighborhood Khalidiyeh. (S.N.N.)
22:15
Demonstrators are protesting in Zabadani and calling for overthrowing the regime. (S.N.N.)
22:15
A mass protest has begun in Qatna, a town outside Damascus. People are calling for overthrowing the regime. (S.N.N.)
21:59
People are protesting in the Houran province town of Naheta and are calling for overthrowing the regime. (S.N.N.)
21:50
A protest began in Homs’ Deir Baalba neighborhood. Demonstrators are calling for overthrowing the regime.
21:10 Demonstrators are protesting against the regime in Homs’ neighborhood of Bab al-Sabbaa. (S.N.N.)
21:02 A protest started in Aleppo’s Al-Salmaniya area. (S.N.N.)
20:58 Demonstrators are protesting in Daraa. (S.N.N.)
20:50 People are protesting against the regime in Hama’s Halafya neighborhood. (S.N.N.)
20:41 Iran and Syria “remain leading state sponsors of terrorism,” top US counterterrorism official John Brennan said while introducing a new American anti-terrorism strategy, AFP reported.
20:30 Demonstrators are protesting in Damascus’ Moadamia neighborhood and calling for overthrowing the regime. (S.N.N.)
20:17 People are protesting in al-Hajar al-Aswad in Damascus and calling for overthrowing the regime. (S.N.N.)
20:15 Electricity has been cut in Jabal az-Zawiya. Snipers are deployed on rooftops. (S.N.N.)
20:06 The US said it is setting sanctions on the Syrian Political Security Directorate for human rights abuses, citing two incidents when its agents killed protesters in March and April, AFP reported.
20:05 A protest was dispersed in Darayya by security forces and Shabeeha militants. (S.N.N.)
19:16 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Wednesday in Homs’ neighborhood of al-Qsour shows women protesting and chanting against President Bashar al-Assad. They are chanting, “The people want to overthrow the regime.”
19:14YouTube video purportedly filmed on Wednesday shows people protesting and chanting against President Bashar al-Assad in Saqba, a town outside Damascus.
18:55YouTube video purportedly filmed on Wednesday shows people in Deir az-Zour protesting and chanting against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
18:52 A mass protest has begun in Homs’ neighborhood of al-Qsour. People are chanting for overthrowing the regime. (S.N.N.)
18:40 The death toll in the Edleb district town of Jabal az-Zawiya has risen to eight. (S.N.N.)
18:24 An unnamed Syrian opposition source said there is a consensus between opposition parties to not participate in the national dialogue President Bashar al-Assad has called for, Italian news agency AKI reported.
17:33YouTube video purportedly filmed on Wednesday shows students marching against the regime in the Houla neighborhood of Homs.
17:15 Syrian troops killed seven civilians when they stormed into two villages in the northwestern province of Edleb, a rights activist told AFP.
16:27 British Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated accusations that Iran is backing Syria’s crackdown on protests, AFP reported.
15:52 Army tanks rolled into more northwestern villages, as hundreds of lawyers staged a sit-in protest in Aleppo, a human rights activist told AFP.
15:46 Twitter user @ZainSyr tweets that around 1000 lawyers are staging a sit-in at the Aleppo courthouse.
15:34 Twitter user @ZainSyr tweets have five people have been killed in the army’s assault of the Edleb district town of Jabal az-Zawiya, adding that tanks are shelling the town as helicopters hover overhead.
15:15 Twitter user @SyrianJasmine tweets that the Edleb district village of Belyoun is being bombarded by artillery as reconnaissance planes fly over the area.
13:56 The army has raided the Edleb district towns of Mareyan and Ahsem. (F.N.N.)
13:00 A YouTube video purportedly filmed Wednesday in Abu Kamal shows high school students rallying against the regime and chanting against President Bashar al-Assad.
12:34 President Bashar al-Assad’s adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, said on Tuesday that peaceful protesters are not being targeted by security forces.
11:32 High school students held an anti-regime rally in Homs after finishing their official exams. (F.N.N.)
08:42 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Tuesday night in Qaboun in Damascus shows protester rallying against the regime.
08:42 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Tuesday night in Hama shows protesters rallying against the regime, chanting against President Bashar al-Assad and his brother, Maher.
8:00 Activists behind street protests in Syria criticized on Tuesday a meeting of opposition figures, as the United States said the gathering was a step in the right direction.
7:41 Dozens of tanks and other armored vehicles entered the village of Al-Rami, in the province of Edleb, on Tuesday, Rami Abel Rahman, president of the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, said.
6:00 A YouTube video purportedly filmed Tuesday night shows protesters holding up signs during a night demonstration in Homs’ Bab as-Sabaa neighborhood. One demonstrator is holding up a sign that says “We are with you Daraa and Hama.” The protesters are saying, “The people want the overthrow of the regime.”
6:00 A YouTube video purportedly filmed overnight in the Khaldiyeh neighborhood of Homs shows dozens of protesters marching and chanting, “The people want the overthrow of the regime,” as well as, “God is greater.”
5:50 Anti-regime protesters in the Homs’ Khaldiyeh area march in a YouTube video purportedly filmed Tuesday night.
5:00 A YouTube video purportedly filmed overnight shows dozens of protesters chanting against the regime as they march in Homs’ Jourat as-Shayyah neighborhood.
4:00 A protester has just been killed in Homs. (S.N.N)
3:00 A YouTube video purportedly filmed Tuesday night shows hundreds of protesters chanting against the regime in Hama.
3:00 Dozens of protesters chant against the regime in a video purportedly filmed Tuesday night in Latakia. They are calling for President Bashar al-Assad to leave.
3:00 There has been heavy gunfire in the Asheera neighborhood of Homs since half an hour ago. (S.N.N)
2:00 Phone landlines have been completely cut-off in Jableh. (S.N.N)
2:00 The army has withdrawn from the Edleb district village of Al-Rami without carrying out any arrests or destruction. (S.N.N)
1:00 There is sporadic gunfire in several areas of Homs, including in Baba Amro, to drown out the sounds of protesters chanting, “God is greater.” (S.N.N)
1:00 Demonstrations have started in the Ramel al-Janoubi neighborhood of Latakia, with protesters calling for the fall of the regime. (S.N.N)
1:00 Protesters in Latakia as well as the Qadam neighborhood of Damascus are chanting, “God is greater.” (S.N.N)
0:00 There are reports soldiers in Daraa have mutinied and fled to the countryside. The gunfire heard earlier was that of security forces firing on the dissident troops. (S.N.N)
0:00 Despite the heavy security presence in Damascus’ Qadam neighborhood, protesters massed for a large demonstration under the slogan, “No dialogue with [President Bashar] al-Assad.” (S.N.N)
0:00 There is heavy gunfire in Daraa al-Balad and electricity has been cut in the city. (S.N.N)

REUTERS:Analysis: Syrian opposition divided over path for change

Syria’s opposition, weakened by half a century of oppression under the Baath party, is united in demanding change but divided over how to achieve it.

Some believe the street protests which erupted three months ago, the most serious challenge to the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad, can overthrow him and bring democracy and freedom to the Arab country.

Others insist that without dialogue with the authorities to agree on reforms and a period of transition away from autocracy, the country faces a dark future, including possible civil war.

Divisions came to the fore this week when the leadership granted a rare public platform to the opposition in Damascus. It let them articulate demands but also exposed a rift between those taking part and other activists, many in exile, who called it pointless while security forces were still crushing protests.

“We are definitely with the dialogue. We do not think there is anything else capable of solving the crisis in Syria,” said Fateh Jamous, who spent some 19 years in jail as a dissident.

“But before the dialogue we need some practical moves on the ground … so that the side which is holding talks does not look like it is doing that against the popular movement,” he added, speaking by phone from Damascus.

Other opposition figures believe Assad has already squandered opportunities for reform, saying it is too late for the national dialogue he has promised and he must leave now.

“This regime has lost its legitimacy. I do not see any reason in talking to it. He must go and we will choose our way after him. He must go first,” said one secular activist in Damascus, who asked not to be named for his own safety.

Even many who believe in dialogue say they cannot talk with the authorities while the crackdown on protesters continues.

“What we want is a democratic change in the structure of the regime, which means changes in laws, institutions — all the issues of the past 40 to 50 years to be dealt with,” said Jamous, a senior official of Syria’s Communist Labor party.

SETTING TONE

Louay Hussein, a writer who was detained during this year’s protests and took part in the opposition conference in Damascus on Monday which called for democratic change, said authorities must prepare the right atmosphere for talks.

“Before any dialogue all detainees must be released, the crackdown must end, and the opposition must be allowed a voice in state media,” he said.

Western governments have condemned Assad’s violence against protesters, but their practical response has so far been limited to sanctions against top officials, a far cry from the military intervention against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Assad’s response to the protests has also included steps toward reforms, including granting citizenship to some ethnic Kurds, lifting a draconian state of emergency, freeing hundreds of prisoners and calling for a national dialogue.

Protests, triggered by anger and frustration at corruption, poverty and lack of freedoms, have been mainly peaceful, though rights groups say the death toll among protesters is over 1,300 and that 12,000 people have been detained.

Assad’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said on Tuesday that 500 soldiers and police had been killed. Activists say that at least some of the dead soldiers were killed by their own superiors for disobeying orders to stop protests.

Syria has imposed restrictions on media, including expelling journalists, making it hard to verify accounts of violence.

DIVISION EXPOSED

Although the secular opposition shared a common goal of democracy and opposes foreign intervention, years of oppression under Assad’s late father, Hafez al-Assad, have fragmented this loose grouping of liberals, Arab nationalists and Kurds.

A high-profile alliance which in 2005 produced what it called the Damascus Declaration calling for peaceful reform has done little as a group since this year’s protests broke out.

Operating largely separately has been the banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Dominated by exiles since the elder Assad crushed an armed revolt by the group in the city of Hama in 1982, it still has potential to be a major force among those in the Sunni majority keen to throw off domination by Assad’s minority Alawite sect. Membership is still punishable by death.

Most veteran opposition figures have spent years in prison. Many have been jailed several times.

In the past year, Syria’s intelligence agents have worked tirelessly to divide the various opposition groups, playing on their rivalries to plant seeds of doubt among them and leaving a legacy of suspicion still evident in their responses to an uprising that seems to have started as a spontaneous reaction among ordinary people to the overthrow of other Arab leaders.

When the Syrian protests erupted in March, triggered by local grievances in the southern city of Deraa, the disparate opposition failed to take a lead, leaving the way open for a new form of activism, inspired by Egypt’s successful revolution.

Young people set up local coordination committees which were active on the streets, made contact with media organisations banned from reporting in Syria and made use of mobile phone footage and social media to promote their cause.

“The street opposition was born and is now playing the main role in calling for the change,” said Aref Dalila, a prominent economist and activist who spent years in prison. He dropped out of this week’s meeting in Damascus at the last minute.

SILENT MAJORITY

The conference won a guarded welcome from Assad’s toughest critics in Western governments, but another prominent opposition figure in Damascus who refused to take part said it might have helped polish the authorities’ image and harmed their opponents.

“We feel it might have been used … to minimize the extent of opposition and to suggest it was limited only to those who came to the meeting,” said the man, another formerly jailed dissident.

Despite three months of street demonstrations, in which tens of thousands have braved violence to challenge Assad’s rule, most of the 22 million Syrians have stayed on the sidelines and the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo have seen fewer protests.

While Assad’s promise of dialogue is unlikely to sway the committed protesters it might send a positive signal to the “silent majority” which has not taken to the streets, either from fear of repression or concern about chaos if Assad goes.

Fayez Sara, a liberal writer who attended the meeting in Damascus, said it had been an important achievement which helped bring different views together. He hoped it could be repeated in the provinces: “(It was a) breakthrough in the work of the opposition, which has been deprived of meeting and organizing events for the past 50 years,” said Sara.

It was not the first time this year an opposition conference has been met with skepticism. When a group of activists and opposition parties met in Turkey last month critics among their fellow Syrian dissidents described it as an attempt to encourage foreign powers to intervene in their country.

That exposed another fault line in opposition ranks, between activists in exile who have been lobbying the international community to make a stand against Assad, and those still in the country who mostly insist that Syrians solve their own problems.

“The opposition outside does not represent us at all. We are against any external intervention, because we believe it will only be motivated by interests and political forces which have a different view from those within the nation,” said Jamous.

INTIMIDATION

Some activists who favor dialogue with Assad said they have come under pressure from others who question their loyalties.

“Some are saying … ‘you are doing the authorities a favour’ and ‘it is a betrayal of the blood the people have shed in the streets’,” said one man in Damascus, who said he got angry messages on Facebook which all but called him a traitor.

“It is nonsense. In order to save the blood of the people we should talk,” he said. “The sense of responsibility is still weak among many opposition groups. Some fear the intimidation, and they are doing nothing because they fear that this or that person will say something bad about them.”

His views were echoed by several activists across Syria.

Many stressed the country’s potentially volatile religious and ethnic mix as a powerful reason for promoting dialogue, to reduce the risk of violence from any sudden shift in power.

Analysts say that communities of Sunni Muslim Arabs — by far the biggest group — Kurds, Alawites and Christians, could slip into civil war as Assad increasingly relies on his fellow Alawites, both regular and militia forces, to hold on to power.

“I think now the crisis is heading toward a dangerous road and I hope that it will averted,” Jamous said. “All sides should make compromises: the regime, which is responsible for what is happening, and the opposition and those elements on the street which have called for the overthrow of the regime without thinking of the alternative and how to fill the vacuum.

“We want a transitional period during which safe and transparent elections take place.”

Military defections expose cracks in Syrian army

A growing number of Syrian soldiers are deserting the army to avoid taking part in the military crackdown against protesters demanding the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

Unwilling to open fire on demonstrators who have taken to the streets chanting the revolutionary slogans of uprisings across the Arab world, some Syrian troops have chosen to lay down their arms and flee to neighboring countries like Turkey.

It is difficult to estimate how many have done so, partly because they are afraid to speak out and partly due to severe restrictions on foreign media reporting in Syria, which makes it hard to corroborate accounts inside the country.

But Internet videos have begun increasingly to surface in recent weeks of men displaying military insignia and identification cards who say they have left an army that has used tanks and guns to suppress protesters calling for freedom.

Assad has relied on the armed forces, whose commanders are mostly from his minority Alawite sect, to crack down on protesters, who are mostly from the majority Sunni population.

The shabbiha, irregular Alawite loyalists, have also been deployed. Often clad in black, witnesses and activists say these are among the harshest enforcers of a crackdown that has left at least 1,300 civilians dead, according to rights groups.

In a sign cracks are appearing in the army, Turkey’s Anatolian news agency said high-ranking Syrian soldiers and police were among more than 12,000 refugees seeking shelter in Turkey during attacks on protesters in northwestern Syria.

Reuters spoke by telephone to two men presented by Syrian opposition activists as soldiers who had deserted. One was of ethnic Kurdish descent who had escaped to Turkey and another was a captain who said he was originally from the rebellious town of Jisr al-Shughour and was now somewhere by the Turkish border.

Syrian authorities say “armed gangs” and “terrorists” are to blame for the violence. They say at least 500 soldiers and police have been killed by militants.

“SAW TRUTH IN DERAA”

The first deserter, a 21-year-old conscript from the mainly Kurdish northeastern province of al-Hasaka, told Reuters that officers would force soldiers to watch Syrian television showing “infiltrators” — a term used by authorities to mean militants entering or backed from abroad — shooting at protesters.

“Before we went to Deraa, they would tell us there are infiltrators and gunmen among civilians who were opening fire on the army,” the conscript said, referring to the southern city where the uprising against Assad began in March.

“And we were eager to go and fight. We believed it, but when we arrived in Deraa, we no longer believed this story.

“We saw the truth in Deraa. We saw that the gunmen were under the protection of the state,” he said, referring to the shabbiha. He said he saw militiamen ordered by army officers to kill protesters — “to show that infiltrators were doing it.”

The 21-year-old, who asked that his name be withheld to protect his family in Syria, said had been drafted to the 14th Brigade in December, arrived in Deraa on April 25 and fled a month later. Dressed in civilian clothes, he escaped from Deraa via Damascus and Hasaka, to Turkey, leaving his family behind.

“You were forced to open fire on protesters,” said the soldier. “I used to fire in the air, at walls, on the ground, just so they could see that ammunition was being fired.

“In the army, you defend yourself in time of war, but don’t go and kill the people of your country, your brothers and your family. My conscience is clear now I don’t have to kill people.”

ARMY LOYALISTS

Witnesses and opposition activists have reported several occasions when they said soldiers refused to fire on protesters, or when soldiers were killed for refusing to kill demonstrators.

Assad still commands loyalty among the mainly Alawite units led by his brother Maher, including the Republican Guard and the 4th Armored Division, each of which have about 10,000 men backed by tanks.

They are better trained and paid than the rest of the army, which numbers over 200,000 troops including conscripts, and are helped by smaller formations of loyalists and Alawite militias in several parts of the country.

A doctor in a military hospital in Damascus said earlier this month that 17 soldiers with gunshot wounds were brought in from Deraa: “I was working in the emergency room and the soldiers were brought in on trucks,” he told Reuters.

“They told me they were shot by shabbiha because they refused to fire on protesters.”

Most of the statements from self-declared deserters that have been aired on Arab satellite television channels or in online videos seem to be from the Sunni rank and file, some of whom appear to have been angered to hear news from home of killings in their native provinces.

Experts say that as the crackdown continues in restive regions, defections could draw in more and more senior soldiers.

A man who described himself as Captain Ibrahim Majbour told Reuters by telephone that he had refused to allow his unit to go to places of unrest to fire on protesters. He said he went to the central province of Homs in an unofficial capacity in May where he said shabbiha and security forces were raiding homes.

“I did not participate in the repression of protests,” he said, adding that he had feared for his own life and decided to defect. A statement by him is posted on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMEsc5eGW9M&feature=youtu.be).

Majbour said he commanded a unit in the special forces of the 14th Brigade and was originally from Jisr al-Shughour, where the army launched an intensive assault this month.

“I am from Jisr al-Shughour before I am an officer in the army,” he said, adding he was angered by seeing “my family homeless and my town destroyed.” Speaking from an undisclosed location in the same region, on the Turkish border, he warned:

“The officers will come back to achieve victory for the country and to protect protesters.”

He declined to elaborate, but shortly after he spoke on Tuesday a group calling itself the Free Officers Movement said in a statement it was giving the army one week to “determine its position toward the regime and to side with the protesters.”

Reuters could not independently determine the authenticity of the group, or how much support it might have.

A man who said he was a Syrian journalist read out the group’s statement near the Turkish border. It listed the group’s aims, including electing a transitional council, and appointed a Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush, whose defection has been documented on video, as its official spokesman.

The journalist said the group consisted of 16 officers in refugee camps in Turkey and some 35 still in Syria.

While the capabilities of the group remain unclear, such defections signal a potentially violent new element in the three-month-old unrest that has posed the gravest challenge to Assad’s tight control over Syria.

For now, the 21-year-old conscript said, the balance of power is with those with the guns: “How can the regime change when the people have no weapons and the government has them?”

Political turmoil raises pressure on Syrian currency

Syria’s economy, reeling from three months of unrest, faces currency pressures that could deplete reserves and undermine President Bashar al-Assad’s chances of political survival, businessmen and diplomats said.

The reserves, which officially stand at $18 billion, have been falling at the rate of $70-80 million a week as the central bank pumps foreign currency to arrest falls in the Syrian pound exchange rate on the black market, the sources following the Syrian economy in Damascus and Beirut said.

The uprising, and Assad’s military crackdown on protests, have triggered withdrawals of deposits from Syria’s still small banking system and a spending spree by the state to maintain loyalties, which is costing billions of dollars and contributing to a sharp drop in the exchange rate, bankers said.

Those with knowledge of Syria’s economy and willing to speak to Reuters, whose correspondents were expelled after protests began, would do so only on condition of anonymity.

Syrian authorities have published little official data covering the months since the uprising broke out in March that could help reveal the extent of pressure on the pound.

The market exchange rate, however, fell 8 percent to 53 pounds to the dollar since a speech by Assad last week in which he asked Syrians to shore up the national currency. The official rate stands at 47.6 pounds.

Previous market rumors — impossible to verify — that a rich cousin of Assad had deposited $1 billion in the central bank did not stop the pound’s slide.

The tiny Damascus Stock Exchange, which has seen no foreign investment since it opened three years ago, has fallen almost 8 percent since the speech, its main index showed.

In his speech, Assad described “weakness or collapse of the Syrian economy” as a major threat, while blaming what he termed psychological factors for any loss in confidence.

He thanked citizens who supported the pound by putting money into the banking system. It remains dominated by state-owned banks, although privately owned banks were allowed nine years ago in an attempt to abandon decades of centralized control.

“One day, after we overcome the crisis, God willing, we should ask all those who have money about the role they played, how they contributed to this campaign,” Assad said.

ECONOMIC RETREAT

The Syria Report economic newsletter said the speech may have indicated several things: that “the fiscal position… is much more strained than the official figures suggest; the government is not willing to use its foreign reserves to support the pound and cover import requirements; or foreign reserves are simply not as important as initially believed.”

The newsletter said in an editorial that pressures on the pound remained manageable in the short term because of the high declared reserves and a slowdown in economic activity reducing imports, but “by merely pronouncing the word ‘collapse’ the president indeed only reinforced that psychological factor.”

A Western diplomat who has been tracking the economy said a drying up of foreign investment and costly measures like restoring subsidies on gas oil, hiking state salaries and tax breaks, as well as spending on security and irregular forces loyal to Assad will only add to pressures on the pound.

As the sharp economic slowdown starts to hit business in the capital and in the merchant hub of Aleppo, close to Turkey, Assad could find one of his key support bases starting to erode.

“Business has slowed down massively,” a merchant in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, said. “Many factories in Aleppo, especially textiles, have been laying off workers, putting them on reduced pay or reduced hours. Hotels are empty, and the thousands of informal workers in the sector are now unemployed.”

Last month the Institute of International Finance, a global bank group, forecast the $52 billion Syrian economy shrink by 3 percent this year. That compared to an earlier, pre-protests forecast of 3 percent growth, similar to that achieved in 2010.

Political unrest has stymied three major investment projects by Gulf investors in Syria and has harmed efforts to attract capital needed to boost the economy after decades of Soviet-style controls, business figures said.

Tourism, a sector that has boomed in recent years, contributing up to 25 percent of foreign currency earnings, was also hard hit. A leading figure in the hotel trade told a local newspaper that average occupancy rates were a mere 15 percent in the high-season months of April and May.

“The regime is not thinking far ahead,” he said.

“They are thinking how to live through next Friday, which means Assad cannot reduce the subsidies or cut salaries because it will annoy more people. They think they can deal with economic collapse when it happens.

“For now they have no sense of economic strategy.”

An international banker working in Damascus said that the authorities were spurring demand for dollars by resorting to violence. He said monetary measures taken last month, including raising the interest rate on deposits by 2 percentage points and halving banks’ reserve requirements, were not enough to stop the pound from weakening.

“The central bank had indicated two months ago that it would not allow the exchange rate to exceed the equivalent of 50 pounds to dollar but that the ceiling had been breached,” said the banker in Damascus, who declined to be named.

“No intervention can compensate for the fundamental lack of a political solution.”

Syria tank assault kills four near Turkey border

Syrian troops shot dead four villagers on Wednesday, an activist said, as authorities pressed on with a tank-led assault that has already driven thousands of refugees across the northwest border with Turkey.

“The four died in random firing on the village of Rama from tank machineguns, which has become customary in these unjustified assaults. The tanks started firing on surrounding woods then directed their fire on the village,” Ammar Qarabi, president of the Syrian National Human Rights Organization, told Reuters from exile in Cairo.

The assault on Jabal al-Zawya, a region 35 km (22 miles) south of Turkey that has seen spreading protests against Assad’s 11-year rule was launched overnight, a day after the authorities said they would invite opponents to talks on July 10 to set a framework for a dialogue promised by President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition leaders have dismissed the offer, saying it is not credible while mass killings and arrests continue. The Local Coordination Committees, a main activists’ group, said in a statement on Wednesday that 1,000 people have been arrested arbitrarily across Syria over the last week alone.

“Jabal al-Zawya, was one of the first regions in Syria where people took to street demanding the downfall of the regime. The military attacks have now reached them and they will likely result in more killings and in more refugees to Turkey,” said Qarabi, who is from the northwestern province of Idlib.

He said he based his information on several witnesses’ testimony. Syria has banned most international media, making it difficult to independently verify accounts of violence.

A resident of Jabal al-Zawya said he heard heavy explosions overnight around the villages of Rama and Orum al-Joz, west of the highway linking the cities of Hama and Aleppo.

“My relatives there say the shelling is random and that tens of people have been arrested,” he said.

Another resident said 30 tanks went to Jabal al-Zawya on Monday from the village of Bdama on the Turkish border, where troops broke into houses and burned crops.

Rights campaigners say Assad’s troops, security forces and gunmen have killed over 1,300 civilians since the uprising for political freedom erupted in the southern Hauran Plain in March, including over 150 people killed in a scorched earth campaign against towns and villages in Idlib.

They say scores of troops and police were also killed for refusing to fire on civilians. Syrian authorities say more than 500 soldiers and police died in clashes with “armed terrorist groups,” whom they also blame for most civilian deaths.

Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told Sky News: “We hope that by conducting and hastening the national dialogue, we will be able to isolate any militant or violent group and work together with the international community to overcome that big problem.”

Assad has faced criticism from Western governments over the military campaign to crush the three-month uprising. France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe will meet his Russian counterpart later this week and will discuss the Syrian impasse in the hope of convincing Moscow to change its stance on a resolution condemning Syria at the United Nations.

French foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Paris was extremely concerned with the ongoing violence in Syria saying that “reforms and repression were not compatible.”

Valero, however, said that Syrian authorities took a positive step by allowing a meeting in Damascus on Monday of intellectuals that included several opposition figures.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague echoed France’s guarded welcome of Monday’s talks, but called for an end to violence, the release of political prisoners and a right to peaceful protest.

“Protests across the country are still being met by unacceptable violence from the regime, and the reports of Syrian troop movements near the Turkish border are of serious concern,” he said.

Ankara has also become increasingly critical of Assad after backing him in his moves to improve ties with the West and seek a peace deal with Israel.

Turkey shares an 840 km border with Syria, a mostly Sunni country ruled by a tight-knit hierarchy belonging the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Islam.

Assad had opened the Syrian market to Turkish goods, but Turkish container traffic to Syria has fallen sharply over the last month, merchants say.

Sawasiah, another Syrian rights Organization headed by lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani, said a security campaign that has resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people across Syria since March, has intensified in the last few days.

Security forces arrested Farhad Khader Ayou, an official in the Kurdish Mustaqbal party, on Tuesday in the eastern province of Hasaka, Sawasiah said.

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