Helicopter gunships fire at Syria protest: witnesses
Jun 10, 2011
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN, June 11 (Reuters) – Syrian helicopter gunships fired machineguns to disperse pro-democracy protests, witnesses said, in the first reported use of air power to quell unrest in Syria’s increasingly bloody three-month-old uprising.
The use of the aircraft came on a day of nationwide rallies against President Bashar al-Assad, as unrest showed no sign of abating despite the harsh crackdown by his authoritarian state.
The helicopters opened fire in a northwestern town after security forces on the ground killed five protesters, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“At least five helicopters flew over Maarat al-Numaan and began firing their machineguns to disperse the tens of thousands who marched in the protest,” one witness said by telephone.
“People hid in fields, under bridges and in their houses, but the firing continued on the mostly empty streets for hours,” said the witness, who gave his name as Nawaf. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal have asked the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad, though veto-wielding Russia has said it would oppose such a move.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem wrote to the Security Council accusing the opposition of violence and sabotage, Al Arabiya television said. Foreign governments were basing their views on “inaccurate information”, it said.
State television said earlier well-armed “terrorist groups” had burned police buildings and killed members of the security forces in Maarat al-Numaan, which lies 55 km (35 miles) south of Syria’s second city Aleppo on the highway to Damascus.
LETTER ASKING FOR HELP
Moualem’s letter asked for U.N. help to combat “extremism and terrorism”. Damascus wanted dialogue with the opposition, the letter said.,
Syrian authorities have banned most foreign correspondents from the country and have repeatedly tried to portray anti-government protesters as armed and violent.