Conflict & Justice

Syria: students protest in 2nd-biggest city, Aleppo (UPDATES)


Mainly Syrian workers held up posters of their President Bashar al-Assad as they rallied outside the Syrian embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut on April 12, 2011.


Anwar Amro

Syrian students have reportedly demonstrated in the country's second-largest city of Aleppo, a significant development in the monthlong pro-reform movement.

Meanwhile, Damascus has blamed armed gangs for preventing injured victims of pro-reform protests receiving medical treatment, and chastised the media for compiling "baseless accusations saying the Syrian authorities prevented the injured from going to hospital for treatment."

President Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly blamed "armed groups" and "infiltrators" for any violence during anti-government protests. Protesters have been calling for greater freedoms and an end to Assad's 11-year rule.

A Syrian Interior Ministry statement released Wednesday said: "It was armed men who prevented ambulances carrying 34 wounded policemen to hospital in Deraa on April 8."

According to Agence France-Presse, the statement echoed a previous statement, issued Friday that said: "Armed gangs blocked the road in Banias [in the northwest] to prevent ambulances getting to military wounded and taking them to hospital."

"In addition, the armed gang opened fire on the medical teams," the statement reportedly added.

In Aleppo, Radif Mustafa, the president of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights, said security forces and students had clashed on the campus of the university. "Security forces dispersed by force a protest by students calling for freedom," he told the Agence France-Presse.

The students "expressed solidarity with the victims of Daraa and Banias," flashpoint protest towns in the south and north, Mustafa reportedly said.

On Monday, about 50 students protested at the university in Damascus, staging a sit-in at the science faculty before security forces moved in with batons and arrested some students.

The students were apparently motovated by a crackdown over the weekend in the towns of Daraa, Latakia and Banias, during which 30 civilians were killed, according to rights activists.

Meanwhile, Syria has aired the "confessions" of Lebanese detainees in which they said received money and weapons from Lebanon to foment protest and destabilize the country.

A man identified as Anas Kanj, 29, said on state-controlled TV that he was the head of an "armed terrorist group" that received weapons and money from Lebanese parliamentarian Jamal Jarrah, DPA reported.

Jarrah, who denied the allegations on Lebanese TV, belongs to the anti-Syrian Lebanese Future movement headed by caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, son of Lebanon's former leader Rafik al-Hariri, who was widely believed to have been assassinated by agents acting on behalf of Syria.

"Then we received orders to arm ourselves in order to carry out operations to support our brothers in Deraa and all of Syria's provinces like Latakia and Banias, and this was through Ahmad Oudeh who was the messenger between myself and MP Jamal al-Jarrah in Lebanon," Kanj said, according to Reuters. 

Kanj reportedly said Oudeh smuggled weapons through the border by bribing border officials and then ordered his cell to launch attacks in Damascus.

The state-run Syrian Al-Thawra newspaper reportedly said that Kanj was instructed "to open fire on protesters" in a bid to make people believe Syrian security forces were killing demonstrators.

Human Rights Watch has published testimony by two people present during protests in the southern city of Deraa on Apr. 8 who said that some demonstrators had seized weapons at an abandoned army checkpoint and opened fire, killing at least a dozen people and setting fire to military and police vehicles. 

Another man identified as Mohamed al-Qalam said that Oudeh promised to provide telephones and a car that resembled security vehicles, NBC reported.

"We appointed a person to video the dead and wounded and to send it directly on the revolution website," Qalam said, apparently referring to the Facebook page "The Syria Revolution 2011." 

— Freya Petersen