BEIRUT – Two days ago, crowds in the Syrian city of Hama welcomed a U.N. team sent in to observe a shaky truce. On Monday, government troops opened fire on the same streets, killing dozens, activists said, raising fears the regime is targeting opponents emboldened to protest by the U.N. monitors.
The new bloodshed – the worst violence in the central city of Hama in months – came despite the cease-fire that went into effect April 12.
The U.N. has sent an advance team of 11 observers to Syria to push forward the peace plan put forth by envoy Kofi Annan. More monitors are due by the end of the month, part of a total mission of 300.
While deaths nationwide dipped in recent days, the violence in Hama and elsewhere Monday suggested the regime was attacking those who voiced grievances to the observers.
“This was the punishment for the people of Hama because yesterday they were very brave when they met the U.N. monitors,” activist Mousab Alhamadee said via Skype.
He said government troops drove through the Musha al-Arbeen neighborhood on the city’s northeast edge, firing automatic weapons and killing at least 32 people. Amateur video posted online showed protesters near the observers’ cars Sunday in the same area chanting, “Long live Syria! Down with Assad!”
Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the day’s violence started when rebels attacked the car of an army officer, killing him and his assistant. Regime forces later stormed the town, killing 33 people, he said.
Protesters elsewhere were also attacked after receiving observers. Thousands chanted and danced around the observers’ cars in Douma, near the capital of Damascus, only to face gunfire and tear gas from security forces when the observers left, according to activists and amateur video.
Also Monday, a Jordanian relief agency said Syrian troops ambushed hundreds of people fleeing the country over the weekend, and dozens of them crossed into Jordan with burns and gunshot wounds. The Kitab and Sunna charity said Syrian forces detained dozens of people, including about 50 women.
In Washington, President Barack Obama announced new sanctions on bodies in Iran and Syria that use technology to target citizens by blocking or monitoring social networking sites used to organize demonstrations and communicate with the media.
In Luxembourg, the EU passed its 14th set of sanctions, this time banning “luxury goods” and products that can be used against protesters.