Protesters Snub Assad Decree; Scores Dead

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HAMA, Syria, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Syria’s resistance rejected President Bashar Assad’s decree permitting opposition parties and dozens more civilians were reported killed by security forces.

Assad’s decree grants citizens the right to establish political parties with the aim of contributing to political life “through peaceful and democratic means,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Thursday.

The embattled opposition movement dismissed the decree, alleging it was simply for show and would produce no real change.

The U.S. State Department dismissed the announcement as “empty rhetoric” while French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe scorned it as “almost a provocation,” given the scale and duration of the repression.

The announcement of the law came as Syrian forces once again shelled Hama and plainclothes gunmen shot people in the streets in the fifth day of a tank, armored vehicle and sniper assault on the rebellious city, residents and activists said.

Footage on YouTube showed the bloodied corpses of four men said to have been killed by tank or cannon fire. Traditional news media are not allowed in much of Syria.

The city suffered from a critical food shortage, activists said.

Hama, a city of 700,000 north of Damascus whose name means “fortress,” has emerged as a linchpin of the nearly five-month uprising.

The international civic organization Avaaz cited medical sources as saying 109 people were killed in Hama Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday U.S. officials believed more than 2,000 people had been killed in the five-month crackdown on dissent.

She spoke after the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Syria it said were the latest in a series seeking to isolate Assad and his close aides.

The Thursday sanctions targeted Assad confidante and Syrian Parliament member Mohammed Hamsho and his Hamsho International Group for their alleged role in propping up the Assad regime.

The sanctions freeze Hamsho’s assets in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with the company, whose 20 lines of business range from construction and telecommunications to ice cream making and horse trading.

Sanctions to be announced in a few days are expected to target Syria’s state owned and affiliated oil and gas companies, a key government revenue source, the Treasury Department said.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford was to return to Damascus Friday after a week in Washington for his Senate confirmation hearing and other meetings.

Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour planned to travel to Syria Sunday to meet with Assad, An-Nahar, Lebanon’s leading Arabic-language newspaper reported Friday.

Mansour planned to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem, the newspaper said.

The Lebanese daily A-Jumhuriya said Mansour had accepted a Syrian invitation.

Lebanon disassociated itself from a U.N. Security Council statement Wednesday condemning violence in Syria.

Two days earlier former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on the Arab world to end its “silence” on Syria’s crackdown by refusing to condemn Syria’s “bloody” onslaught.

The Syrian people deserve “to define their choices freely and within their humanitarian rights,” Hariri said in a statement.

Syria, which borders Lebanon to the north and east, occupied Lebanon from 1976 through April 2005.

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