10:23am

Mon August 8, 2011
The Two-Way

Syria Is Hacked By Anonymous, And Pressed By Gulf Allies

Syria's President Bashar Assad has removed the country's defense minister and replaced him with the army chief of staff, according to Syria's state-run news agency. The change, one of several in key government posts, comes during Syria's "brutal crackdown on a five-month-old uprising" against Assad, the AP reports.

That crackdown is bringing pressure on Syria and Assad from nearly all quarters. As Eyder reported earlier, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have now recalled their ambassadors. Here's a quick rundown of other developments:

  • Turkey's foreign minister will visit Damascus Tuesday, to give Assad a "decisive message," says Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. But Reuters reports that an Assad aide has already warned that the minister "would be given short shrift."
  • The hacker group Anonymous attacked Syria's Ministry of Defense website, according to The Washington Post's Faster Forward blog, which said "the logo of the group appeared on the Web site with a message in Arabic" and one in English. The English note, split into two parts, expressed admiration for the Syria's civilian protesters, and urged the country's military to protect the Syrian people and defend their nation against Assad. The website has been taken down, but you can see a screengrab of it at the image site imgur.
  • The Arab League also spoke out against Assad, with Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby expressing "strong distress over the deteriorating security conditions in Syria due to escalating violence and military operations."

A new military offensive that was part of the crackdown continued until around noon Monday, according to reports.

Details have been scarce, as Syria has also tightened restrictions on the media. But Al-Jazeera collected some accounts, reporting that in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, "the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that security forces had shot dead a mother and her two children fleeing the assault."

That city was reportedly stormed by soldiers and tanks early Monday morning, just as the call to prayer brought people out into the streets.

"We have just been speaking to activists in Deir ez-Zor," al-Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh said, "and right now as we speak several snipers are controlling the top of buildings in the heart of the city."

The BBC summarizes the broader situation like this, with an important caveat:

Human rights activists say at least 1,700 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands arrested since the uprising began in mid-March. More than 300 people are believed to have died in the past week alone.

Access to Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and activists.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.