Security forces and demonstrators continued to clash Saturday, April 23 in Damascus, Hama, Daraa and nearby Izraa after Friday's bloodbath left more than 100 dead and hundreds injured. Syrian snipers shot dead at least 15 mourners, injured dozens, at the funerals. Witnesses report security forces are seizing hospital ambulances to deny demonstrators injured from live gunfire medical treatment. The regime in Damascus dismissed US President Barack Obama's charge that President Bashar Assad sought Iranian assistance in repressing his own citizens as based on non-objective information.
Also Saturday, two lawmakers became the first Syrian politicians to resign in protest against regime brutality: Nasser al-Hariri, representative of the southern town of Daraa, said was no point in serving under a regime that fired live shots to kill its citizens. MP Khalil al-Rifai came next.
debkafile adds: Last week, several military officers were secretly executed for refusing orders to shoot demonstrators. Early Saturday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé cautioned Damascus that regime heads and security forces officers could face international prosecution for shooting civilians.
debkafile reported earlier: Bashar Assad faces the final showdown for his survival Saturday, April 23 after Friday saw the bloodiest day in the month-long protest movement against his regime: In his second statement in 24 hours, US President Barack Obama condemned the Syrian regime's "outrageous use of violence" against the protesters saying "it must end now." While blaming outsiders, President Assad seeks Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens," said the US president.
In neither statement was the Syrian president urged to step down, even after the decision he took Friday to muster the entire army for crushing the surging uprising, which is expected to explode with greater fury during the funerals Saturday. Under new orders from Damascus, Syrian troops have already quit their posts on the Israeli border to reinforce units deployed in the cities.
Assad has his back to the wall: Armed protesters are barring his security forces from entering broad regions of the country unless they are accompanied by large-scale, military strength with massive fire power.
Friday night, debkafile reported:
The eleven Syrian army divisions are Assad's last card in his fight for survival. Until now, he kept most of them back, sending out to the streets only his trusted security services, Republic Guard and 4th Division commanded by his younger brother Gen. Maher Assad.
But when Friday's bloodbath failed to keep the rising tide of protest from igniting 16 towns from north to south – Hama, Homs, Deir al-Zur, Banias, Daraa and the three Kurdish towns – and encroaching on Damascus, the capital, and second largest Syrian city, Aleppo, the Syrian president decided to go all the way. He ordered his army chiefs to assume control of security in Syria's main towns and districts and divide the country up into thee military regions.
The die was cast by the time the White House issued its first statement urging the Syrian government "to cease and desist" its violence against demonstrators and follow through on promised reforms. Assad's orders to the army had already gone out by the time the White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters as President Barack Obama flew back to Washington from California, said, "We deplore the use of violence" against the demonstrators.
In any case, US President Barack Obama's tardy statement still refrained from addressing Bashar Assad's responsibility for the violence, least of all calling on him to step down to meet the people's demands.
In Daraa, epicenter of the movement in the south, the crowds hoped to reach Washington's ears with slogans shouted in English: "Assad: The game is over! " and "Go and open an eye clinic!"
Friday night, our sources report, Syrian army units were already sighted heading towards the cities, joined for the first time by troops normally on duty on at the Syrian-Israel border.
debkafile's military sources disclose their assignments:
Corps No. 1 was given responsibility for the capital Damascus and its outlying towns and districts;
Corps No. 2 took charge of central Syria and the towns of Aleppo, Homs and Hama;
Corps No. 3 spread out in the south and Jebel Druze.
It was the last straw for Assad when Friday, the strategic town of Katana west of Damascus was drawn into the protest movement and rallied against his regime. Katana houses the main bases of the Syrian armored corps, which is part of the 7th Division, and serves as divisional logistical administration center. Its population is made up mostly of the officers, men and civilian personnel serving at those bases.
Having Katana turn against the regime finally persuaded its leaders to throw every resource it had into crushing the uprising.
For the Syrian ruler, deploying the entire army is a wild gamble because more than 75 percent of Syria's 220,000-strong rank and file are Sunni Muslims, Kurds and Druzes and therefore drawn from ethnic and religious groups long repressed by the Alawite-dominated regime. Saturday could see uniformed troops flouting orders to shoot live rounds into crowds of protesters who are members of their community or even family. It would start the break-up of the Syrian army amid large-scale defections of officers and men.