More Syrians Are Missing, Hinting at a Wider Crackdown
By Anthony Shadid
The New York Times
April 24, 2011
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Dozens of residents have disappeared in Syria since Friday, many of them from the restive city of Homs and towns on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, human rights activists said Sunday, amid signs that the Syrian government may widen its crackdown on a five-week uprising that has already killed hundreds.
The disappearances were yet another indication that the government’s decision to lift emergency rule, in place since 1963, might prove more rhetoric than reform. Though the government has proclaimed the law’s repeal on Thursday as a sweeping step, the past few days have proven some of the bloodiest and most repressive since the uprising began.
On Friday, at least 109 people were killed, as security forces fired on protesters in 14 towns and cities. At least 12 more were killed Saturday, when mourners sought to bury the dead from the day before. Another person was reported killed Sunday in Jabla, where security forces fired on residents after the visit of the governor. “We don’t trust this regime anymore,” one protester there said. “We’re sick of it.”
Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations to set up an international inquiry into the deaths and urged the United States and Europe to impose sanctions on officials responsible for the shootings and the detentions of hundreds of protesters.
“After Friday’s carnage, it is no longer enough to condemn the violence,” said Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director at the organization, which is based in New York.
Residents reported Sunday that security forces had surrounded some towns on the capital’s outskirts, where some of the highest death tolls were reported Friday. Anyone leaving or entering was searched, they said, in an apparent attempt to stop protesters from marching on the capital, a bulwark of the Assad family’s 40 years in power.
An organizer in Saqba, one of the towns, said 100 people were missing. “No ruler has ever defeated his people,” she said. “The people always prevail.”
Wissam Tarif, executive director of Insan, a Syrian human rights group, said it had compiled the names of 217 people who had disappeared since early Friday. At least 70 of them were from a region near the capital, and 68 others were from Homs, Syria’s third largest city and the site of especially vigorous protests in the past week. Taken together, he said, the group had documented the names of missing people from 17 cities and villages.
“It just doesn’t stop,” he said. “Names keep pouring in.”
The government has prevented most foreign journalists from working in Syria, making the reports impossible to verify. The government has appeared to signal a willingness to offer some reform while cracking down on those who oppose the government publicly. It has yet to deploy the full force of the military.
“This is not going to stop,” Mr. Tarif said. “There is going to be much more bloodshed.”
Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Beirut and Damascus, Syria.