Syrian army withdrawing from Hama, official says

Syrian army withdrawing from Hama, official says

A Syrian military official said Monday that army units "assigned to restore security and stability" in the central city of Hama began withdrawing after achieving "their mission to protect civilians' lives, and to pursue the members of armed terrorist organizations," the state-run news agency SANA said.

SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying that "members of terrorist organizations" carried out actions of sabotage and obstructed the "cycle of life"" in Hama until army units "professionally" intervened and confronted "these terrorists and arrested some of them to hand them over to justice", dpa reported.

The source added that "normal life is gradually being restored" in Hama.

The Syrian regime attacked Hama in a pre-dawn raid on August 1, killing, according to Syrian activists, more than 300.

More than 1,650 people and around 390 security personnel have been killed since protests calling for President Bashar al-Assad to leave office began in mid-March, according to local human rights advocates.

Since the uprising started in Syria, the regime has accused what they described as "armed gangs or terrorists" of being behind the unrest.

Earlier Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new minister of defence, amid regional pressure on the current regime to end bloodshed in the country.

General Daoud Rajiha replaced Ali Habib Mahmoud, who was on the European Union's travel ban and asset freeze list for Syrian officials.

Rajiha, a Greek Orthodox Christian, was the army's chief of staff.

The government and army are dominated by members of al-Assad's minority Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim offshoot, loyal to al-Assad and his ruling Baath party, which has ruled Syria since 1970.

The new appointment comes after seven people were killed when Syrian troops intensified their operations on pro-democracy protesters.

Three people were killed when security forces used live ammunition on a funeral procession for those who died a day before in the southern province of Daraa, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Two women and two children were shot dead in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, activists said. They were trying to escape a crackdown in the city, where a military assault left at least 50 dead on Sunday.

In Hama, around 1,500 people were arrested in a massive random arrest operation in the al-Garagma neighbourhood.

An activist said that security forces were announcing names through loudspeakers, and if that person did not surrender, troops stormed his house and arrested all the men inside.

Dozens more were arrested in the northern province of Idlib when tanks and armoured vehicles stormed the town of Maaret al-Naaman.

These reports cannot be independently verified, as the Syrian authorities have barred most foreign media and international human rights groups from the country.

Al-Assad Sunday vowed to continue a crackdown as international pressure mounts against his government.

Both Kuwait and Bahrain summoned their ambassadors to Syria for "consultation" on Monday, 24 hours after Saudi Arabia recalled its envoy from Damascus.

Also, the world's oldest Sunni religious establishment, Al-Azhar, called for an end to the "tragedy" in Syria, saying the situation had "exceeded all limits."

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