Six protesters, including four women, were shot and killed in the Syrian port city of Banias yesterday as government forces continued to repress demonstrations there, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian tanks storming the city were met by protesters linked in human chains to block the advance, Agence France-Press reported. The demonstrations were a response to the killings May 6 of at least 30 people by Syrian forces. Gunfire was heard in the city as security forces tried to enter the al-Rahman mosque, BBC Arabic said.
In Egypt, where former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, nine people were killed and 140 injured yesterday in clashes between Christians and Muslims in Cairo, Al Jazeera television reported. The army was later deployed on city streets to stop the violence that was sparked by reports of a romance between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim, it said.
Unrest has spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, toppling or threatening regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen.
Yemen’s ruling General People’s Congress offered a new timetable for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relinquish power, Mohammed al-Mutawakkil, a member of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties’ higher council, said yesterday in a telephone interview from the capital, Sana’a.
According to the proposal, senior ruling party members would sign a previously agreed accord with the opposition and then Saleh will endorse it within a month, al-Mutawakkil said.
The country’s ruling and opposition parties were scheduled to sign the accord on May 1, in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. That ceremony was canceled after Saleh said he would sign the agreement in his capacity as chairman of the ruling council, not in his role as president.
That was unacceptable to the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, representing six opposition groups, Al-Mutawakkil said. “It makes no sense,” he said. “The president has said he’s willing to step down, so why doesn’t he sign the agreement as president?”
In the Libyan city of Misrata, which has been under a rebel siege for two months, witnesses told AP that Muammar Qaddafi’s forces bombed a fuel depot. Nobody was injured in the attack, AP said. Misrata is east of Tripoli, the Libyan capital and stronghold of Qaddafi.
Qaddafi has battled since mid-February a rebel insurgency that split the country, which has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves. Nine rebels were killed in fighting yesterday in Zentan, less than 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Misrata along the Libyan coast, closer to Tripoli.
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s promises of political change have so far failed to halt the most serious challenge to his 11-year rule. Demonstrations against the Syrian leader began in mid-March, inspired by uprisings that ousted rulers in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.
Hundreds of people have been arrested in the Banias demonstrations. Syria’s Interior Ministry said 192 people “involved in riot acts” turned themselves in to authorities in response to a government announcement that those who surrender between May 2-15 will be exempt from punishment, the official SANA news agency reported yesterday. The ministry said 553 people have surrendered so far.
Crackdowns occurred in the Syrian cities of Hama, where six people were killed and 15 died in Homs yesterday, according to Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria’s National Organization for Human Rights.
Western governments have condemned Assad’s reactions. The European Union agreed May 6 to sanction 13 Syrian government officials next week, AP reported, citing an unidentified official. The restrictions don’t apply to Assad, it said.
“The Syrian government must respond to the Syrian people’s call for change,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. “It must realize that violence and intimidation will not answer their call.”
Assad is blaming the protests on foreign-led conspirators. He has appointed a new government, ended emergency rule that had been in place since 1963 and promised reforms. He has also allowed humanitarian aid into the country, according to United Nations spokesman Farhan Haq, and Red Cross and Red Crescent help began arriving May 6.
In Yemen, a missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region on May 5 was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, the New York Times said yesterday, citing U.S. officials.
Awlaki doesn’t appear to have been killed by the attack, the officials said, according to the newspaper.
The official Saba news agency reported on May 5 that two brothers who were senior members of al-Qaeda were killed during a hunt by security forces.