Secret police strike fear in Syria’s Deraa

A SYRIAN mother-of-six who opened the door to a secret policeman in the border town of Deraa just had time to scream “Israelis are more merciful than you” before he shot her dead, relatives said.

Neighbours were then chilled by the hysterical cries of her 10-year-old daughter Sameeha after the killing on Wednesday.

Tanks rolled into Deraa, the cradle of protests against President Bashar al-Assad, last Monday. Residents say at least 50 bodies have been picked up, mainly from the town’s old quarter, since then. Dozens more corpses still rot in the streets.

Sameeha’s mother, 42, known as Um Omar, was buried in her own backyard — Muslim tradition barred putting her body among 22 male corpses kept in a refrigerator truck awaiting burial.

“They have no fear of God. As Um Omar said before she died, if we had Israelis besieging Deraa, they would be more merciful,” said her cousin Ibrahim, 52, from the Masalmah tribe.

Enraged residents say at least 40 tanks of the ultra-loyal Fourth Mechanised Brigade, commanded by Assad’s brother Maher, have deployed in Deraa, near the border with Jordan.

“There are still a lot of bodies in the streets, we have only taken a few. Anyone who gets out will find a sniper ready to shoot him. They are not sparing anyone, men, women or children,” said a resident from the Mahameed clan.

“They are heartless. Obliterate all of Deraa, but let the children and sick women leave in a safe corridor,” he added.

Few risk going to the local state hospital, now occupied by troops. Residents say hundreds of people wounded during six weeks of protests have been taken into custody from the hospital. Secret police are said to be whisking bodies out of the morgue to prevent funerals that might spark further unrest.

Residents talk of a growing humanitarian crisis as the army siege of the city continues. The streets remain empty, with thousands of security forces, snipers and special troops manning Russian-made tanks in every neighbourhood.

Syrian and international rights groups have condemned the authorities for cutting electricity, water and telephone services since Monday. Essential supplies, such as baby milk and blood for transfusions, are running low.

Few of Deraa’s 120,000 citizens dare to leave their homes, spending long nights under candlelight. The sick and elderly, running short of medication, cannot access hospitals or clinics.

Witness accounts describe desperate relatives from nearby villages being turned back by bullets from troops at checkpoints sealing off Deraa from its surroundings in the Hauran plain.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced rare dissent within his Baath Party and signs of discontent in the army over violent repression of protesters that a rights group says has killed 500 people.

Two hundred Baathmembers from southern Syria resigned after the government sent in tanks to crush resistance into Deraa.

Diplomats said signs were also emerging of differences within the army where the majority of troops are Sunni Muslims, but most officers belong to Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

The Baath Party claims more than a million members in Syria, making yesterday’s resignations more a symbolic than a real challenge to Assad’s 11-year rule.


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