According to a breaking news report by Reuters, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has informed the UN Secretary-General that police and military operations have stopped in Syria, implying that the violence that has been rocking the country may be over.
In a phone call with Assad on Wednesday, Ban “expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria, including in the Al Ramel district of Lattakia, home to several thousands of Palestinian refugees,” the United Nations said in a statement.
“The Secretary-General emphasized that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped,” the statement added.
As noted yesterday by journalist Michael Totten, there has been speculation that Assad was deliberately emptying Latakia of Palestinians and Sunni Muslims in order to create an “escape hatch” for his minority Alawite sect. Therefore, Assad may be calling a halt to the activities of his authorities in order to make a final stand in Latakia.
This theory is further supported by the fact that Assad’s anouncement comes just after Syrian forces herded thousands of people into a large stadium overnight, allegedly to prevent any protestors from escaping.
Syrian troops raided houses in a Sunni district of the besieged port of Latakia on Wednesday, residents said, arresting hundreds of people and taking them to a stadium after a four-day tank assault to crush protests against President Bashar Assad.
Assad forces attacked al-Raml al-Filistini (Palestinian sand), named after a refugee camp built in the 1950s, at the weekend, as part of a campaign to crush a five-month uprising, which has intensified against major urban centers of protest since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Aug. 1.
An end to the terrible violence engulfing the country would be very welcome, however it is not clear whether this is merely a diversionary tactic to ease international pressure a little.
Most news services are now verifying the UN announcement, however there is still no proof that operations have indeed stopped. One CNN report (below) notes that the Syrian state media is certainly attempting to convey the impression that everything has returned to normal.
That said, a number of people claiming to be in Syria have used the social media sphere to deny the reports and claim that Assad has been lying. Take, for example, the below Tweets.