Shooting Erupts in Hama Before Arab Visit

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mariam Karouny

2011-12-24T130622Z_661044096_GM1E7CO1MID01_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA

Men pray next to the coffins of people killed at security sites on Friday in two car bomb attacks, at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus December 24,2011 in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. The United Nations expressed grave concern about twin suicide car bombings in Damascus and condemned the attacks that killed 44 people and lent a grim new face to the uprising in Syria.

REUTERS/Sana/Handout

BEIRUT (Reuters) – At least seven people were wounded on Wednesday in the Syrian city of Hama when security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a protest against President Bashar al-Assad, just a day before a visit by Arab peace monitors, a rights group said.

Live pictures on al Jazeera television showed gunfire and black smoke rising above a street in Hama as dozens of protesters chanted: “Where are the Arab monitors?”

Arab League monitors checking if Syria is ending its violent crackdown on popular unrest are due to visit Hama on Thursday. In its footage, al Jazeera showed one man bleeding from the neck as others shouted in the background.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the protesters were heading towards Orontes square in the city centre for a sit-in at the symbolic location where demonstrations were crushed earlier this year.

Security forces were not visible in the Jazeera footage. Unarmed protesters, some masked, were heard shouting “Assad forces are shooting us.” The protesters then began chanting: “Freedom for ever” and “We will have our revenge on you Bashar.”

Reuters could not verify the details as Syria has banned most foreign media from the country.

Hama, 240 km (150 miles) north of Damascus, has particular resonance for Syrians. The city was the site of the biggest massacre in the country’s modern history.

Troops overran Hama in 1982 to put down the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which made its last stand there. Up to 30,000 people were killed, many of them killed in an army bombardment or executed in the streets by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s’ father, the late Hafez al-Assad. Parts of its old city were razed to the ground.

Twenty-nine years later Hama demonstrators demanding the overthrow of Bashar still revile the memory of his father, who died in 2000 after ruling Syria for three decades.

FREEDOM CALL

In the Jazeera footage, the protesters began cursing Hafez’s soul immediately after the gunfire was heard, before rushing to hide in alleyways.

A few looked out to shout a defiant freedom call before disappearing into hiding again. The shooting intensified, then one man shouted out that snipers were now operating in the area. Dozens of men squeezed themselves in an alley, chanting anti-Assad slogans.

“There is no turning back from the revolution,” they shouted.

Hama was among the hardest hit cities in an escalation of military attacks against urban centers where anti-Assad protests had been held.

In August, tanks attacked Hama for ten days, provoking Arab and Western outrage, after weeks of protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Orontes Square. Authorities said the operation was necessary to cleanse the city of “terrorists” according to the wishes of Hama inhabitants.

On Wednesday, part of an Arab League team went to a flashpoint area in the city of Homs but some of their planned tour was blocked when gunfire erupted, activists said.

Residents of Homs’s Baba Amr neighborhood initially refused to cooperate when the monitors arrived with an army escort and the team withdrew. But activists said a smaller group of monitors returned without the officer and were escorted by residents and activists on a tour of the turbulent district.

But the monitors could not enter an area where residents said they believed detainees were being hidden because gunfire erupted. It was not clear where the shooting came from.

“Residents were accompanying the team to the area to show them where they believe detainees are being held when suddenly there was gunfire near the checkpoint,” said Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Activists: 111 Killed in Syria’s “Bloodiest Day”

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian forces killed 111 people ahead of the start of a mission to monitor President Bashar al-Assad’s implementation of an Arab League peace plan, activists said on Wednesday, and France branded the killings an “unprecedented massacre.”

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 111 civilians and activists were killed on Tuesday when Assad’s forces surrounded them in the foothills of the northern Jabal al-Zawiyah region in Idlib province and unleashed two hours of bombardment and heavy gunfire.

Another 100 army deserters were either wounded or killed, making it the “bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution,” he said.

“There was a massacre of unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression.”

The United States said it was deeply disturbed by reports of indiscriminate killing and warned Assad the violence must stop. Britain said it was shocked by the reports and urged Syria to “end immediately its brutal violence against civilians.”

Events in Syria are hard to verify because authorities, who say they are battling terrorists who have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police, have banned most independent reporting.

Tuesday’s bloodshed brought the death toll reported by activists in the last 48 hours to over 200.

The main opposition Syrian National Council said “gruesome murders” were carried out, including the beheading of a local imam, and demanded international action to protect civilians.

The escalating death toll in nine months of popular unrest has raised the specter of civil war in Syria with Assad, 46, still trying to stamp out protests with troops and tanks despite international sanctions imposed to push him onto a reform path.

Idlib, a northwestern province bordering Turkey, has been a hotbed of protest during the revolt, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year, and has also seen increasing attacks by armed insurgents against his forces.

The Observatory said rebels had damaged or destroyed 17 military vehicles in Idlib since Sunday while in the southern province of Deraa violence continued on Wednesday.

Tanks entered the town of Dael, the British-based group said, leading to clashes in which 15 security force members were killed. Six army defectors and a civilian also died and dozens of civilians were wounded, it said.

ARAB PEACE MONITORS

The Syrian National Council said 250 people had been killed on Monday and Tuesday in “bloody massacres,” and that the Arab League and United Nations must protect civilians.

It demanded “an emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the (Assad) regime’s massacres in Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs, in particular” and called for “safe zones” to be set up under international protection.

It also said those regions should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said unless Damascus complied fully with the Arab League plan to end the violence, “additional steps” would be taken against it. Washington and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on Syria.

“Bashar al-Assad should have no doubt that the world is watching, and neither the international community no the Syria people accept his legitimacy,” he said.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on Tuesday that an advance observer team would go to Syria on Thursday to prepare the way for 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to admit the monitors, who will check its compliance with the plan mandating an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

Syrian officials say over 1,000 prisoners have been freed since the plan was agreed six weeks ago and that the army has pulled out of cities. The government promised a parliamentary election early next year as well as constitutional reform which might loosen the ruling Baath Party’s grip on power.

Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply skeptical about Assad’s commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule, which followed three decades of domination by his father.

Assad is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, and Alawites hold many senior posts in the army which he has deployed to crush the mainly Sunni Muslim protests.

In recent months, peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations, often led by army deserters.

In a show of military power, state television broadcast footage of live-fire exercises held by the navy and air force, which it said aimed at deterring any attack on Syria.

U.N. TOLL

The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-Assad protests broke out in March.

Arab, U.S. and European sanctions combined with the unrest have sent the economy into sharp decline. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday to more than 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the unrest.

Arab rulers are keen to prevent a descent into civil war in Syria that could affect a region already riven by rivalry between non-Arab Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and Sunni Muslim Arab heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Millership)

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Syria Calls for Arab League Emergency Meeting

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin Chulov in Beirut

Syria has called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League after the regional body announced it will suspend Damascus from its membership ranks on Wednesday and impose sanctions – a move that has sharply escalated tensions across the region.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad wants the urgent meeting held before the suspension is due to take effect. Syrian officials made the demand after a night of apparently sponsored violence against the diplomatic missions of states that had voted to punish it because of a crackdown against demonstrators in defiance of an earlier understanding.

On Saturday night, protesters stormed the Saudi Arabian and Turkish embassies in Damascus and the Qatari mission in nearby Beirut, prompting Turkey and Saudi Arabia to withdraw non-essential diplomats and their families.

Turkey has also demanded compensation for damage to its embassy and warned its citizens against travelling across its southern border.

Last month, the US also withdrew its ambassador after the US embassy was twice stormed by a crowd.

The British Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, condemned the latest embassy attacks on Sunday. “By allowing these attacks to take place, the Syrian regime is demonstrating yet again that its first response is repression and intimidation,” he said. “This cycle of violence must stop now for the sake of the Syrian people and for those who support them.”

Turkey called on the international community to stop the bloodshed in Syria, a demand that appeared to leave open the possibility of some kind of intervention.

An unnamed Syrian official told the state news agency Sana on Sunday that Arab League monitors could travel to the country to assess the situation before the suspension is due to take effect on 16 November.

Such a concession had been a key demand of the body, which two weeks ago thought it had struck a broad deal with Damascus to end the violence.

However, clashes have intensified since then, with daily death tolls often of more than 20 people, meaning November – the eighth month of the Syrian uprising – is likely to be its bloodiest yet.

A large pro-regime rally saw thousands turn out in central Damascus on Sunday in what was cast as a spontaneous mass display of backing for Assad, whose support base remains stronger in the capital and in the commercial hub of Aleppo than in the third and fourth cities, Hama and Homs. Daily clashes there between troops and protesters underline a deepening divide with ever-sharpening sectarian dimensions.

Syria is ruled by the Assad clan, hailing from the Allawite sect, which has close ties to Shia Islam. The Allawites account for around 12% of all Syrians, but are deeply entwined into the establishment.
Other minorities include Christians, Druze and Kurds. However, the bulk of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, whom the regime fears have drawn strength from successful revolts in the Sunni states of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The effect of Syria’s suspension is not yet clear, and neither are the type of sanctions that the Arab League may impose. The organisation’s secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, said on Sunday that he is “studying mechanisms” to protect Syrian people.

He left open the possibility of again referring Syria to the UN security council, where Syrian allies Russia and China last month blocked a move that had threatened to bring security council sanctions.
Arabi said the league did not have the means to act alone.

Despite its relative lack of clout, the Arab League move is significant on the global stage, where European and US policymakers had been struggling to craft a means of stopping the violence in Syria without causing a collapse in regional stability.

Without the cover from the Arab League that the US received in March, Barack Obama would have been much less likely to authorise the use of the US military in the early stages of the Libyan operation – an essential element of the ultimately succesful Nato operation.

The move against Syria – only the second of its kind in the history of the 22-state organisation – is likely to embolden states opposed to the regime but fearful of the knock-on effects of the fall of Assad.

Isolation is not sitting well with Assad or Syria’s key patron, Iran.

Both states have warned of “dire consequences” if more pressure is piled on the regime, and insisted that the relentless protests are foreign-backed and being led by militant Sunni Islamists.

Guardian.co.uk

Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed Receives Lifetime Achievement Award From the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

Pan Arab CeremonyDubai, UAE–On 19th of April 2011, the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists honoured Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed of Boston, Massachusetts with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”.  The Award was given at a joint meeting of the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists and Dubai Derm 2011 held at the International Convention Center in Dubai.  The patron of the Meeting was HRH Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who presided over the session.  In announcing the Award, Dr. Omar Al Sheikh of Riyadh, KSA, Secretary General, stated; 

“In recognition of his 35 years of dedication and commitment to treating patients with severe autoimmune blistering diseases and for the discovery of new and novel therapies to treatment them.  In addition, in recognition of his numerous landmark and milestone contributions enhancing the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of their pathogenesis, the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists present this Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed.”

The Pan Arab League of Dermatologists has been in existence since 1979.  It consists of 23 Arab countries which have a cumulative population of over 8700 dermatologist that constitute the League.  It meets every three years in a different Arab country.  This is the first time in is 33 years of existence that it has bestowed such an Award. 

The objectives of the League are:

•    To hold conferences and educate its members with knowledge of the latest advances and discoveries in the science and practice of medical and surgical dermatology.
•    To promote the specialty, scientifically and professionally the League provides an avenue to advance collaboration between individual members and member countries. 
•    To foster the development of infrastructure in the academic institutions within member countries by aiding in the formulation of curricula, faculty recruitment and exchange, and sharing resources to create a learning environment that is challenging for young physicians to become competent dermatologists. 
•    To strongly support the translation of manuscripts, books, and other written educational resources into Arabic to advance scientific research and the utilization of information technology. 
•    To ultimately be the voice of dermatology in the Arab world by uniting Arab dermatologists under one umbrella.

Dr. Ahmed is originally from a small town called Wani in the District Yavatmal in Maharashtra in Central India.  He studied medicine at the internationally-renowned All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.  Shortly thereafter he went to the United States where he trained in Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, in Dermatology at the University of Buffalo, and in Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of California at Los Angeles.  Dr. Ahmed was on the Faculty of Medicine at UCLA for six years before moving to Harvard University in Boston.  He began molecular research and earned a Doctorate of Science degree from the Harvard University Faculty of Medicine, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Thereafter, Dr. Ahmed continued his laboratory research for 20 years on the campus of the Harvard Medical School with funding provided by the National Institute of Health.  He also opened the first “Center for Blistering Diseases” in the U.S.  The Center provides an all-inclusive, holistic approach to treating every aspect of a patient’s life.  Dr. Ahmed established a model for the treatment of these autoimmune, potentially fatal diseases.  This model has been emulated in other cities with significant success.

Dr. Ahmed is one among a handful of blistering disease specialists in the world.  He has published original scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, chapters in various books, and edited five  monographs.  He has lectured in the U.S. and worldwide throughout Asia, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.  Blistering diseases patients come to him from all over the U.S. and several countries overseas.  He is unique because he is an excellent clinician, an imaginative and creative scientist, and an effective teacher with an infectious enthusiasm and the ability to make young physicians become interested and excited in what they study and learn.  He has received several prestigious awards in the U.S. and many other countries.  It is important to note that he also received two Citations for his research and its global impact; one from The Commonwealth of Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the other from the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Argeo Paul Cellucci. 

Dr. Ahmed treats patients with autoimmune, potentially fatal blistering diseases that affect the skin, mouth, throat, nose, eyes, voice box, swallowing tub, genitalia, and rectum.  The blisters break easily, leaving raw and open sores that are open to infection.  These sores stick to the clothes and bedsheets.  Patients are sick, toxic, and have difficulty coping with their daily lives, often afraid to be seen by society in general.  These diseases are rare.  For example, pemphigus occurs in one patient in a 250,000 population; cicatricial pemphigoid with a potential for causing blindness occurs in one in 1 million population, and epidermolysis bullosa acquisita occurs in one in 3 million people.  Most physicians do not know how to handle these patients and refer them to Dr. Ahmed for medical management.  His patients see him as a savior and “God sent”.  His treatments have saved numerous lives and prevented blindness in numerous others. 

When receiving the Pan Arab Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Ahmed thanked the patients who gave him their trust and the opportunity to make the discoveries he has made over the years.  He thanked his teachers, mentors, colleagues, and many students, for their dedication and assistance.  He focused on his research towards the discovery of the genes that predispose individuals to these diseases and their value and importance to all future research in this field.  He spoke about his discovery of two molecules involved in the process that allows these diseases to happen (target antigens).  He ended by discussing the discovery of two treatments (intravenous immunoglobulin and Rituximab) that can save patient lives and give them not only hope but offer the patients an opportunity to live normal lives. 

While many investigators are chasing “cures” for common diseases like cancer, heart attacks, and stroke, or wanting to find ways to lose weight, grow hair, and eliminate wrinkles, Dr. Ahmed has silent but perseveringly and relentlessly worked on these “orphan diseases” so that those unfortunate patients on the sidelines of the medical world may have hope and a chance to survive.  The Pan Arab League of Dermatologists has done the world, and especially the patients with pemphigus and pemphigoid, a great service by recognizing a physician truly worthy of such recognition. 

Direct inquiries to email address:  centerforblisteringdiseases@msn.com

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