Syria's isolation grows after taking control of siege cities

The Syrian regime refused yesterday to yield to intense international pressure to cease its attacks on civilians, taking full control of two key cities that have been under siege for days.

The eastern city of Deir el-Zour, which since Sunday has been subjected to a barrage of artillery and machine gun fire, fell to government troops. Footage uploaded onto YouTube showed makeshift graveyards being built in public parks. Concrete blocks marked off mud-filled burial plots and the names of the dead were written in pen on wooden boards sunk in to the tombs. It was not possible to verify the the footage.

Meanwhile, the few journalists that have been given permission to operate in Syria since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic rule in March were taken to Hama yesterday to demonstrate that the government had finally overrun the opposition stronghold. "We have finished a delicate operation in which we eradicated terrorists' hideouts," an army officer told the Associated Press.

During last week's siege, witnesses gave a very different account of the situation, telling how the government shelled residential areas and snipers deployed on the rooftops, killing up to 250 people. Hama was the scene of a 1982 massacre by President Bashar al- Assad's father, when at least 10,000 people were killed.

A resident of Hama who spoke to The Independent by phone yesterday confirmed that Syrian tanks had indeed left the city but added that dozens of checkpoints had been set up by members of the 'shabiha', or 'ghosts', militia – a paramilitary force loyal to the government, which has been accused by activists of killing hundreds of civilians.

The eyewitness, who did not want to be named, said: "They have lists of names. If a protester is wanted by the government, his name is on the list. If they catch you, they will take you away and torture you."

Reports last night also suggested that up to 11 civilians had been killed during a government attack on Homs.

In the clearest indication yet that President Assad has decided to ignore a raft of international condemnation, including in recent days from Saudi Arabia, other Arab states and Turkey, government troops stepped up attacks on villages in the north of the country close to the Turkish border.

Activists said that one woman was killed and 13 people wounded when Syrian tanks rolled into the village of Sarmin, about 18 miles from the border. The fresh barrage came just a day after Turkey's foreign minister lambasted the Syrian regime for the continued aggression.

Ahmet Davutoglu had on Tuesday urged the Syrian leader to rein in the attacks on protesters, which human rights groups say have now killed more than 2,000 civilians. According to Syria's state news agency, President Assad told Mr Davutoglu that military operations would continue so long as national security was at stake. Syria would "not relent in pursuing the terrorist groups in order to protect the stability of the country and the security of the citizens," he was quoted as saying.

Yet in an announcement yesterday, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attempted to give the impression that the withdrawal of troops from Hama showed that Syria was heeding Ankara's call for restraint. Mr Erdogan said that Turkey, previously a key ally of Syria with strong trade links to the country's business elite, expected the Baathist regime to begin political reforms within the next 15 days.

"Let's hope that this development results positively and that within 10 or 15 days the process is completed so that steps toward reforms are taken in Syria," Mr Erdogan said.

Any hope that the regime might harbour for rapprochement with the West was scotched last night, however, when the White House said Syria would be better off without President Assad and the US plans to keep pressure on the Syrian government. The US treasury department had earlier announced new sanctions on Syria aimed at the financial infrastructure helping to hold up the government.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?