Death-toll rises amid continuing unrest

Protests entered the tenth week in Syria as thousands took to the streets across the country after Friday prayers.

In a new tactic intended to confuse the police and security forces, numerous demonstrations reportedly took place at night over the weekend.

Today, Reuters reports two people were killed during an army operation in Rastan, several kilometers north of the restive city of Homs.

Activists yesterday called for a day of mass demonstrations over the alleged torture and execution of a 13-year-old boy, Hamza al-Khatib, Al-Jazeera reported.

Over the weekend a total of 12 fatalities included three people in Qatana, a suburb of the capital, and four in the southern village of Dael, opposition ‘local coordination committee’ members told AP.

According to reports in the local media, three policemen were killed and 32 soldiers and security forces were injured in clashes. A policeman’s son was apparently killed in a shootout near Homs on Saturday, SANA reported.

Syrian authorities say 143 soldiers, security forces and police have been killed since the unrest began. According to rights groups, more than 1,000 people have been killed and 10,000 others arrested. In mid-May a UN spokesman said estimates of 850 civilians dead was “likely to be close to reality”.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar announced that he will listen to the complaints of citizens every Monday in person.

Opposition rally in Ankara

Hundreds of opposition activists are due to meet tomorrow in Antalya, Turkey, for a conference where they hope to form a platform with coherent demands.

But there are signs of discontent among prominent opposition leaders on how to proceed.

Leading opposition intellectual, Burhan Ghalioun, professor of political sociology at the Sorbonne, Paris, wrote that he would not attend because he thinks the meeting would be hijacked by foreign interests.

“If I had confidence that this conference would serve [the goals of the youth],” he wrote on May 25, “I would not hesitate in joining them. But it does not. It is a collection of many of those who want to benefit from and exploit the revolution to serve private agendas, including, unfortunately, foreign agendas.”

Some opposition figures dismissed calls for dialogue, saying that could only take place once the violence ends, political prisoners are freed and reforms adopted.

On Friday Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyeb Erdogan called President Bashar al-Assad where he stressed Turkey’s desire for “stability and security” in Syria, SANA reported.

Relations between Turkey and Syria have improved since 1998, when the two powers stood at the brink of war over Syria’s harbouring of Kurdish rebel leader Abdallah Ocalan.

Both governments have since cultivated a close relationship based on mutual economic, political and security interests in the region.

But strong statements from Turkish leaders against violence in Syria and Turkey’s hosting of a Muslim Brotherhood conference recently have seemingly damaged public relations between the neighbours.

EU suspends all Syria aid, economic fears grow

Hundreds of Syrians look set to lose their jobs as the EU decided to cut all bilateral aid to Syria, Josh Landis writes on his influential blog Syria Comment.

“The object,” Landis wrote, “seems to be to bring Syrian economy to a standstill in the hope of bringing down the government.”

Ziad Ghosun, editor of the state-run Tishreen newspaper, wrote in an editorial that the move will hurt ordinary Syrians while having no effect on the government. It is intended "either to shake the stability of [the] Syrian economy when assistance is stopped, or the European project in the region is [taking] a step forward, i.e., France and Britain wish to redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their wishes," he wrote.

Meanwhile G-8 nations meeting in France this week announced USD 40bn in “support” to Arab countries that “embrace the path to democracy and reform”. Half of this sum will be spent in Tunisia and Egypt over the next three years, AP reported.

The suspension of aid comes amid increasing international pressure on Syria in the form of targeted sanctions and lobbying for official condemnation of Syria at the UN Security Council by several EU states.

Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev, however, said Russia will not back EU states and the US at the Security Council, where a draft resolution condemning Syria has been circulated, SANA reported.

In further signs of the worsening economic impact of the unrest, companies have begun to pull out of many parts of the country, the latest being the state-owned Qatar Diar real estate company.

Fahed Darwish, head of Syria’s Free Zones Investment Committee, told the Al-Watan newspaper the building project was “history”.

Meeting with business leaders in Damascus yesterday, economy minister Nidal al-Shaar said the government must “put the Syrian economic house in order,” reported SANA.

Also, the oil giant Shell is coming under pressure to leave Syria from Dutch NGO IKV Pax Christi among others, the Wall Street Journal reported. The group lobbied the EU to suspend aid to Syria in April.

Shell has exploration interests in two production-sharing contracts in the south of Syria, expiring in 2011 and 2014 respectively.

Bankers also told Reuters news agency that investors have withdrawn huge sums from private banks in Syria, of which there are 14, in the last two months.

One analyst estimated around 7 percent of deposits in the private banking sector had been withdrawn since unrest began in mid-March.

The International Institute of Finance meanwhile estimated that Syria’s economy will shrink by 3 percent this year, a rapid fall from 4 percent growth in 2010, in the wake of the unrest.

But the International Monetary Fund, which advised Syria in 2006 on its program of ‘social market’ economics, in May revised its estimate of 5.5 percent growth in 2011 down to 3 percent growth.

Syria Today (Syria)