Syria Announces Reforms; Hama Remains Under Siege

Posted August 4th, 2011 at 6:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree that allows citizens to form political parties. The decree comes as the death toll continues to rise in the government's crackdown on political dissent.

The state-run SANA news agency said Thursday the presidential decree gives citizens the right to establish and join political parties as long as certain conditions are met. The conditions include requirements for the parties to commit to the constitution and rule of law and to abstain from forming parties based along religious or tribal lines.

The decree is a departure from Syria's single-party system which has been dominated by the Assad family's Ba'ath party for decades. But London-based political analyst Nadhim Shehadah calls the new measure “tricks of the trade” designed to “confuse the international community.” Shehadah says most Syrians do not believe the measures are feasible.

In July, the government endorsed a draft of the measure, which is President Assad's latest conciliatory gesture to anti-government protesters seeking reforms.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mr. Assad has lost legitimacy in Syria, adding that the U.S. and its allies were working on strategies to jointly pressure the government. On Thursday, the Obama administration imposed sanctions against a prominent Syrian businessman and member of parliament who it says was acting on behalf of President Assad.

The Treasury Department says it has added Muhammad Hamsho and his company Hamsho International Group to its sanctions list, freezing all assets in U.S. jurisdictions and barring Americans from doing business with them.

Activists say more than 130 people have been killed across Syria in the last four days. They say most of the deaths have been in Hama, which has been under siege by government forces since Sunday.

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday condemned Syria for attacks on civilians and widespread human rights violations.

The statement from the Security Council called for those responsible on “all sides” to be “held accountable” for the unrest. But it contained no enforceable demands or sanctions and does not seek a referral of Syrian leaders to the International Criminal Court, as opposition groups have demanded.

Rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 1,700 civilians since the uprising began in March. The government has blamed much of the violence on what it says are terrorists and militants.