Syria arrests hundreds as riots sweep the nation

Regime blames U.S. after American flags spotted in protests

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Syrian military troops and police have arrested hundreds of Kurds suspected of being involved in the anti-regime riots in cities throughout Syria over the weekend.

Kurdish sources said Syrian intelligence arrested hundreds of suspected Kurdish separatists in Aleppo and surrounding communities. The unrest was sparked by a soccer riot on Friday in the town of Qamishli near the Turkish border.

Syrian officials have accused the United States of fomenting the Kurdish riots. They said the Kurds, who raised U.S. flags during anti-regime demonstrations, were connected to the U.S.-aligned Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

The unrest was termed as the worst in Syria since the Islamic insurgency against Damascus in the early 1980s.

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers, patrolled towns and cities, including Damascus.

On Monday, Kurdish sources reported that Kurdish insurgents killed the son of a Syrian governor in the Aleppo district. They said the insurgents also raided an Aleppo prison and freed an unspecified number of inmates.

In the Qamishli area, government buildings and police cars were attacked and in one case, a security police headquarters was torched. At one point, the sources said, Kurdish unrest reached Damascus.

Syrian officials said six Kurds were killed, all of them trampled to death in the soccer match in Qamishli. Kurdish leaders aligned with the government said at least 19 Kurds were shot dead in clashes with Syrian forces.

But on Tuesday, the Turkish daily Hurriyet, quoting Kurdish sources, said more than 100 people have been killed in the clashes. Earlier estimates placed the casualty toll at 80.

On Monday, Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Suleimaniya demonstrated in solidarity with Kurds in nearby Syria.

On Monday, Syria acknowledged the extent of the damage from the Kurdish unrest. Syrian authorities released footage of torched cars, damaged buildings and even defaced portraits of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, father of the current president.

Syrian authorities has closed the border crossing of Nusaybin with Turkey. Kurdish sources said Turkish nationals in Qamishli were attacked during the unrest and their vehicles torched. They said the Turks have returned to Turkey.

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