Last updated: 17 May, 2011

Syrian opposition calls general strike

Syria’s opposition has called for a general strike on Wednesday in defiance of a government campaign to crush pro-democracy protests, as the army presses its siege of the restive town of Tall Kalakh, the latest target of its brutal crackdown.

“Wednesday will be a day of general strike in Syria,” said a statement posted on the Facebook page of the Syrian Revolution 2011, an Internet-based opposition group that has been a motor of protests that erupted two months ago.

“It will be a day of punishment for the regime by the revolutionaries and the people of free will,” it added.

“Let’s transform this Wednesday into a Friday (the regular day for protests), with mass protests, no schools, no universities, no stores or restaurants open and even no taxis.”

The strike call came amid reports of corpses and dozens of wounded left lying in the streets of the western town of Tall Kalakh where the army is now concentrating its crackdown.

“It looks like a ghost town here, I can see a corpse lying at the entrance of the town and there are dozens of wounded that we cannot evacuate,” said a Sunni Muslim local resident early Tuesday, reached by telephone.

“This is a massacre,” he added, his voice charged with emotion. “We never expected them to be so brutal.

“They are pushing for sectarian strife.”

Also on Tuesday, a resident of the northern city of Homs, which has been besieged by the army, said shelling and shooting was heard late into the night in the city’s Deir Baalba neighbourhood.

“This is all in response to the demonstrations taking place every day and which are quickly put down by security forces,” said the resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his security.

“There are hundreds of tanks deployed in the area and security forces are checking IDs and searching vehicles thoroughly,” he added.

His account and that of the Tall Kalakh resident could not be independently verified as journalists are not allowed to travel freely in Syria to report on the unrest.

The official state news agency said two police officers were killed and four wounded on Monday in Deir Baalba when their car came under fire by an “armed terrorist gang”.

The agency, quoting the interior ministry, also denied reports that a mass grave had been found in the southern city of Daraa, birthplace of the rebellion threatening the regime.

“Reports of a mass grave in Daraa are completely untrue,” the interior ministry said. “These reports are part of a campaign of incitement and lies against Syria.”

Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, told AFP by telephone on Monday that the mass grave was discovered in Daraa after the army allowed residents to venture outside their homes for two hours daily.

“They discovered a mass grave in the old part of town but authorities immediately cordoned off the area to prevent residents from recovering the bodies, some of which they promised would be handed over later,” Qurabi said.

Syrian newspapers carried front-page articles on Tuesday of a meeting between Assad and a delegation from Daraa.

“The meeting (Monday) focused on recent events in Daraa and the current positive atmosphere there, which is a result of the cooperation between local residents and the army as well as reform plans underway throughout the country,” the ruling party’s Al-Baath newspaper said.

Assad announced a reform package last month in a bid to quell the unrest but the move failed to stop protesters, emboldened by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

More than 850 people, including women and children, have been killed in the unrest and at least 8,000 arrested, according to rights groups. Scene: For Syrian refugees, Lebanese relatives provide sanctuary

Syria has blamed the violence on “armed terrorist gangs” backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.