BBC: New Protests in Hama after Syria’s Crackdown leaves hundreds dead


Tens of thousands of people have protested across Syria, days after the bloody crackdown on the city of Hama where the opposition had taken control. Video said to be of Damascus showed crowds in a central district chanting: “Hama, we are with you until death” and “[President] Bashar [al-Assad] leave”.

In a suburb of the city, at least four protesters were shot dead by security forces on Friday, reports say. In a broadcast from Hama, State TV said the city was under government control.  Hama residents and human rights groups accuse the army of killing more than 100 civilians in a bombardment of the city, a focus of the protests against Mr Assad’s rule.

As many as 2,000 people may have been killed by security forces since opponents of President Assad’s autocratic rule took to the streets in March. Protesters were inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Mr Assad has promised reforms, but blames the violence on “armed criminal gangs” backed by unspecified foreign powers. Access to events in Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and opposition activists.

Marching in the heat

Activists had called for more protests after prayers on Friday, with one web user posting a message saying: “God is with us, are you?” Video posted by activists purports to show protesters marching through the Midan district of the Syrian capital, close to the Old City. Clapping their hands, they chanted, “We don’t want you Bashar”.

In another district of the capital, Qadam, protesters carried a banner reading: “Bashar is slaughtering the people and the international community is silent.”  Security forces opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas in several cities, activists said.  At least four people were reportedly killed in the Damascus suburb of Irbin, with a further 10 wounded.

Abdel Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, told AFP news agency that 30,000 people had marched in the city of Deir al-Zour despite extreme heat. Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused security forces of killing some 2,000 people since March. Residents of Hama, which has become a focal point of protests, told reporters that there had been more gunfire and shelling early on Friday.

Snipers and tanks have been firing on civilians and food and medicine supplies are running low, witnesses say. But the Syrian TV report showed pictures of armed men hiding behind cars and claimed the army had quelled a rebellion. The report showed deserted streets with flimsy barricades and piles of rubble. Later, the reporter went into buildings that appeared to have been destroyed in an explosion.

The UN Security Council issued a statement this week condemning the crackdown.  Russia, traditionally an ally of Syria, also joined the criticism, with President Dmitry Medvedev saying Mr Assad would “face a sad fate” unless he urgently carried out reforms and reconciled with the opposition.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says Mr Medvedev’s statement may give the government pause for thought, but there has been no change in the attitude on the ground.


BBC- Jim Muir: Palestinian protests: Arab spring or foreign manipulation?

The “Nakba” day incidents on Israel’s borders showed that the Palestinians have undoubtedly been caught up at last in the Arab revolutionary spring fever. In a very different position from most Arab nations, the Palestinians had so far been largely left out as the spirit of assertive demands for rights and freedoms swept the region and threatened its dictators.

The pent-up frustrations of the Palestinians largely took the form of pressure on their own divided leaderships to unite, something that has now happened. The 15 May challenges to Israel on its borders with Lebanon and Syria, within the fragmented West Bank and on the Gaza frontier, undoubtedly embodied the same kind of risk-taking, confrontational people-power ethos that has fired the revolts in many parts of the Arab world.

Palestinian militancy and desire for self-assertion in keeping with revolutionary Arab times are very strong and can be taken as a given. But the ability to express those sentiments is something else.

‘Common denominators’

There is clearly another dimension to the unprecedented eruptions on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, in which a number of protesters are reported to have been shot dead and many others wounded.  The common denominators in both cases are Syria and its ally Iran.

In past years, Syria has prevented Palestinian protesters from getting anywhere near the sensitive Golan border, where Damascus has in the past scrupulously respected its truce agreement with Israel.  Nearly half a million registered Palestinian refugees live in Syria, some of them in camps not far from the Golan.  Syria may be distracted and preoccupied by events inside the country, but so much that it could not have prevented the Golan incident if it had wanted it not to happen?

The real power in southern Lebanon is Hezbollah, the militant Shia movement that was created in the early 1980s by Iran and Syria to counter Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. If Hezbollah had not wanted the display of Palestinian refugee militancy at Maroun al-Ras on the south Lebanon border with Israel to happen, it would not have happened. Damascus and Tehran retain extremely strong ties with Hezbollah, so by extension, the same is true of them.

Lebanon, like Syria, also has getting on for half a million Palestinian refugees on its soil. But Jordan has something like two million, yet its borders with Israel, running along the Jordan river, did not see any such incidents because Amman did not want it to happen. Jordanian police intervened to prevent a mere 200 Palestinian students from marching towards the border, and six of them were injured when they were restrained.

The unusual flare-ups on the Golan and on the Lebanese border came as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime moved into its third month of confronting its biggest internal challenge in more than 40 years of rule by his family and the Baath Party. It would be hard not to see a link between the two developments.

To allow a controlled burst of tension on the borders with Israel might have been seen by the Syrian regime as serving several useful purposes: to divert attention from its internal troubles, and to burnish its nationalist credentials of steadfast resistance to Israel.

It may also have been aimed at conveying to Israel and the Americans the message that if Mr Assad’s grip on power should slip, Israel might face a much more militant Syria. In a recent New York Times interview, the president’s controversial businessman cousin, Rami Makhlouf, said that if Syria had no security, Israel would have no security – remarks from which the regime has officially distanced itself, but which came from a key figure within the inner circle of power.

‘Playing with fire’

One question Israel will be asking itself is whether the outbursts on the borders might be sustained and turn into a running situation.  That is not impossible. But Damascus and its allies in Lebanon know that they are playing with fire. Syria would be unlikely to permit a situation on the Golan that could get out of hand and lead to a serious engagement with the Israelis that could be deeply damaging, and might even hasten a decision by Washington to move towards a call for regime change.

A warning skirmish is one thing, a serious confrontation something else. In Lebanon, while anything is possible, Hezbollah is also unlikely to want an open-ended situation in which Palestinians play a leading role. The Palestinian presence triggered the Israeli invasion in 1982 and other interventions which greatly hurt Hezbollah’s Shia community.

The Palestinians in Lebanon played no part in Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel. But clearly, these are uncharted waters. For the first time ever, Lebanon had the extraordinary experience of having people shot dead on its northern border by Syrian security forces because of the upheavals inside Syria, and a larger number shot dead on its southern border because of the Palestinian issue.

Whatever the degree of possible manipulation by Syria and its allies, the message from Palestinians both inside and outside is that the Arab revolution has found another home.

Syrian MPs resign after assault on protestors has resulted in nearly 100 deaths this past week

Published in the Guardian.

douma protester syria
At least 10 mourners were killed in Syria as pro-democracy protesters buried their dead after the bloodiest day yet of an uprising against the county’s authoritarian government. Two politicians also resigned from parliament in a sign of growing unease at the government’s use of lethal force. Nasser al-Hariri, a member of Syria’s parliament from Deraa, told al-Jazeera Arabic TV: “I can’t protect my people when they get shot at so I resign from parliament.” Minutes later a second politician, Khalil al-Rifae, also from Deraa, resigned live on the channel.

The resignations – the first during this crisis – were a significant sign of unease at escalating violence. Security forces again opened fire at funerals for Friday’s victims, where large crowds of mourners were chanting anti-government slogans. A witness in Izraa told the Observer that five people from nearby Dael and Nawa were shot dead at the entrance to the town . “They were attempting to come to the funerals of 10 people killed on Friday,” he said. He insisted the security forces and army were responsible. News agencies reported that at least two mourners had been shot dead by snipers in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, and three in the district of Barzeh.

Human rights organisations and activists said at least 76 people and possibly more than 100 were killed during the largest and bloodiest protests yet on Friday, as the unrest continued into its eighth week. Many were shot in the head and chest, and mosques were used as hospitals. Al-Jazeera reported accounts of Syrian security officers entering hospitals and clinics to take the dead and injured to military hospitals in an apparent attempt to cover up casualty figures.

Local human rights organisations claimed some Syrian Christians were among the dead. Christians, who make up around 10% of Syria’s population of 22 million, are largely supportive of the regime due to fears of a backlash by the Sunni Muslim majority. The claims could not be independently verified. Easter celebrations, in which parades of children and families usually flood the streets of Damascus’s old city, have been cancelled. It is unclear whether this was a decision by Christian leaders or if the government had put pressure on them in a bid to prevent large gatherings.

With the death toll since 18 March now above 280, international condemnation of Syria has begun to grow. Barack Obama issued a strongly worded statement calling the violence “outrageous” and said that it should “end now”. As in other protests that have swept the Arab world, social media have been one of the powerful tools of protest, subverting official channels. Amateur video footage of bloody scenes continued to emerge from the protests.

In one video, posted on YouTube, a man tells how security forces killed his son and left him to die. As the situation escalates, Syrian observers said the government had made it clear that it intended to cling to power with the use of violence, despite attempts at reform. “They want to push demonstrators to the limits,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a Syrian dissident based in Dubai. He still believed that President Bashar al-Assad had time to show that he was serious about reform.

But after Assad recently lifted the country’s state of emergency, abolished the security court and appointed new governors in Latakia, Homs and Deraa, other commentators said he was running out of options.  Protesters have responded with a new round of chants. “We want the toppling of the regime,” said a resident of Ezraa, a small southern town that saw one of the highest death tolls on Friday. “The blood of our martyrs makes this our responsibility now.”

Activists acknowledged some concerns that protesters, who have been overwhelmingly peaceful so far, will be tempted to take up arms in self-defence. Syrians say weapons licences are hard to come by for non-Baath party members, but many people in the tribal southern region own guns.

The regime still retains the loyalty of the military and leading businessmen as well as many among the country’s minority communities. In the streets of central Damascus, many say they would rather stick with stability than take a risk on what would come if Assad’s regime was to fall.

Syria’s government, which has continued to blame the deaths on armed gangs, expressed “regret” at Obama’s sharp condemnation of Friday’s violence. “It isn’t based on a comprehensive and objective view of that is happening,” it said in a statement posted on the official Sana website. It added that Syria viewed Obama’s comments as “irresponsible”.  The statement came as al-Jazeera correspondent Cal Perry was ordered to leave the country, adding to an almost total blackout on independent and foreign media.

Libyan revolutionary council rejects African Union’s peace initiative

Published in the Guardian.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil

Libya’s revolutionary leadership has flatly rejected an African Union peace initiative because it does not require Muammar Gaddafi to immediately relinquish power.  The rebels’ interim ruling council met an AU delegation from five countries – led by three presidents and two foreign ministers – the day after Gaddafi endorsed the African “roadmap to peace”, which included an immediate ceasefire, the suspension of Nato air strikes and talks towards a political settlement.

But Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the revolutionary council chairman, said the rebels had told the AU its proposal had been outdated by events, including the UN security council resolution authorising air strikes, and was in any case unacceptable because it left Gaddafi in power while both sides negotiated.

From the very beginning we have been asking that the exit of Gaddafi and his sons take place immediately. We cannot consider this or any future proposal that does not include this peoples’ requirement,” said Jalil. “He leaves on his own or the march of the people will be at his doorstep.”

That view was strongly backed by thousands of demonstrators outside the Benghazi hotel where the talks were held. They waved revolutionary flags and carried signs saying: “No solution with Gaddafi staying”. Jalil said that the AU peace proposal was drafted a month ago and had been overtaken by the UN security council resolution requiring Gaddafi to halt his attacks on civilians. “Colonel Gaddafi did not recognise this resolution and continued bombing civilians from the air and shooting them, and surrounding cities with his forces and put his forces inside cities. There is not any way the Libyan people can accept such a situation,” he said.

Although the AU proposal included a ceasefire, the rebels said it did not go far enough. They want one that requires Gaddafi to withdraw his forces from towns where they have been used to suppress the revolution, particularly Misrata and Zawiya, and the allowing of unfettered public protest in the hope that Libyans in cities still under Gaddafi’s control will seize the opportunity to rise up.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, backed the revolutionaries’ position saying that Gaddafi must go and that a new ceasefire would have to meet the UN requirement for a withdrawal of his forces from cities they are attacking.  “Anything short of this would be a betrayal of the people of Libya and would play into the hands of the regime, which has announced two utterly meaningless ceasefires since the fighting began without its vicious military campaign missing a single beat,” the foreign secretary said.

Jalil also rejected the AU’s proposal for a cessation of Nato air strikes. “If it were not for the air strikes carried out by the coalition forces and Nato we would not now be at this meeting,” he said. The AU’s proposal for an end to the air strikes was also met with scepticism by Nato. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, said that for a ceasefire to work it would need to be “credible and verifiable”, suggesting that international monitors would need to be deployed on the ground in Libya, but that it was “too early” for this.

“We need to establish an effective monitoring mechanism if a ceasefire is to be credible,” he said.  Jalil said that the revolutionary council had confronted the AU delegation with evidence that mercenaries from several African countries were fighting for Gaddafi, particularly from Algeria.

The AU delegation – made up of South Africa, Uganda, Mauritania, Congo-Brazzaville and Mali – left the talks looking glum, without making a public comment and to the derisive shouts of the protesters outside the hotel.  The revolutionary leadership was distrustful of the AU initiative from the beginning. Gaddafi used Libya’s oil wealth to buy greater influence in Africa after his aspirations to forge an Arab union were spurned. The AU delegation included the leaders of countries that have taken money from Gaddafi as well as South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, whose party, the African National Congress, has accepted considerable donations from the Libyan leader.

The rebels were disturbed to see Zuma refer to the Libyan dictator as “brother leader”. The South African leader did not travel on to the Benghazi meeting.  While Gaddafi told the AU he was ready for a ceasefire, his forces continued their onslaught against Misrata. Unicef warned that thousands of children in the city were in grave danger.

At least 20 children, mostly under the age of 10, have been killed in the besieged city in the past month, according to Unicef. Many more have been injured by gunfire or shrapnel from mortars and tank shells. “More and more children in this city are being killed, injured and denied their essential needs due to the fighting,” said Shahida Azfar of Unicef. “Until the fighting stops we face the intolerable inevitability of children continuing to die and suffer in this war zone.”

At least 250 people in the town, mostly civilians, have died in the past month according to two doctors interviewed by phone by Human Rights Watch (HRW). “The Libyan government’s near-siege of Misrata has not prevented reports of serious abuses getting out,” said Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW. “We’ve heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging.”

Al Jazeera English- Concern Mounts for Detained Chinese Artist/ Dissident Ai Weiwei

The wife of a missing Chinese artist says Chinese police are questioning Ai Weiwei’s friends and collaborators amid international concern over his apparent detention by authorities. Ai, an outspoken government critic, has not been seen since apparently being taken into custody after he was barred from boarding a Hong Kong-bound flight at a Beijing airport on Sunday morning.

His disappearance comes as Chinese security services carry out a massive crackdown on lawyers, writers and activists following online calls for protests in China similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa.  Dozens have recently been taken into custody with little word from authorities about where they are being held, who is holding them or the crimes that they are suspected of having committed.

Police searched Ai’s home and studio shortly after his detention and removed computers and other items.  Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, said friends and family were asking police for information about his whereabouts and that of an assistant, Wen Tao, who was detained along with him. So far, they had learned nothing, Lu said.  “I am very worried,” Lu told The Associated Press news agency by telephone. “I felt something terrible was going to happen when they came to search the house and took away all those things.”

Lu said that friends of Ai and people who have collaborated with him, are being contacted for questioning. Police appear to be working their way down a detailed list of both Chinese citizens and foreigners associated with Ai, said Alison Klayman, an American filmmaker who has been working on a documentary about the artist.  A Beijing police spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had no information on Ai’s case.

Ai is the son of one of China’s most famous modern poets, and that stature, led many to believe he was protected from serious attack or formal arrest. Among China’s best-known artists internationally, Ai recently exhibited at the Tate Modern gallery in London.
His career spans protests for artistic freedom in 1979, provocative works in the 1990s, and a hand in designing the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

He was stopped from boarding a flight to Seoul in December, shortly after being invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, honoring Liu Xiaobo, jailed Chinese dissident.  Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion.  Ai said at the time that police blocked him at the boarding gate and showed him a handwritten note that said he could cause damage to national security by leaving.

International condemnation

On Monday, Mark Toner, US State Department spokesman, called for Ai’s immediate release.  He said that Washington was “deeply concerned by the trend of forced disappearances, extralegal detentions, arrests and convictions of human rights activists for exercising their internationally recognised human right for freedom of expression.”

And William Hague, British foreign secretary, also expressed concern and said London was committed to engaging China on human rights issues. On Tuesday, the European Union delegation in Beijing called on Chinese authorities “to refrain from using arbitrary detention under any circumstances”.

Chinese activists are also increasingly alarmed about Ai’s extended detention, and supporters in China and abroad launched their own online drive urging authorities to free him. The online petition to “free Ai Weiwei” was launched on Twitition, a Twitter microblog site, which China’s wall of Internet censorship stops most Chinese from seeing. Enquiries about Ai on China’s most popular homegrown microblogging site,’s “Weibo,” have also been blocked.

Some of Mr. Weiwei’s peices

Anger in Syria over crackdown- 20,000 strong protest

Around 20,000 Syrians chanting freedom slogans marched on Thursday at the funerals of nine protesters killed by security forces in the southern city of Daraa, witnesses said. “The blood of martyrs is not spilt in waste!” they chanted in Daraa’s southern cemetery.

The nine were among at least 25 people shot dead by security forces on Wednesday, residents said. A witness told Al Jazeera that more than 100 people were killed. He said many people have gone missing and bodies have been dragged away from the streets. The town was in chaos, he said.  

A hospital in Daraa had said earlier that it had received the bodies of at least 25 protesters who died in confrontations with security forces. “We received them at 5pm local time on Wednesday (1500 GMT). They all had bullet holes,” the official told Reuters news agency on Thursday.

The AP news agency quoted an activist as saying that some residents of the southern town are holding a sit-in to protest the killings. The activist, who is in contact with residents in Daraa, said the situation is still tense, with a heavy presence of security forces in the streets. He said dozens of people were holding the sit-in in the al-Mahata neighborhood near the city centre.

Inspired by the wave of pro-democracy protests around the region, Daraa residents have held protests since last week. Earlier, human rights activists said at least 15 people have been killed in Daraa.

Residents said security forces shot and killed six people including a doctor who was giving aid to the injured at the Omari mosque, where most of the protests took place. A rights activist also told AFP news agency that security forces had opened fire on mourners attending the funeral of those killed in Daraa.

Call for Friday protests

Meanwhile, pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria have called for mass protests across the country on Friday. Activists used social-networking sites to call for the protests, which they dubbed as “Dignity Friday.”  Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Damascus, said violence broke out in Daraa when residents from other towns clashed with security forces as they tried to enter it to help residents there.

A youth activist in the Syrian capital, who remains anonymous, told Al Jazeera that his contacts in Daraa said that “dozens of people” had died in clashes. “Many there want to take down the government, and want more freedoms.” he said. Our correspondent said there was a heavy security presence in Daraa, with the army, anti-terror police and riot police all deployed in the city. Journalists are not being allowed to visit the city, and several of those who attempted to do so last night had their equipment confiscated by authorities.

‘Need for radical change’

Checkpoints have been set up by security forces at all entry points to the city. There was also no mobile phone network coverage in Daraa on Wednesday. Syria’s state-run television station reported that an “armed gang” attacked an ambulance at the Omari mosque, killing four people. The victims were a doctor, a paramedic, a policeman and the ambulance driver, according to SANA.

Later on Wednesday, state television showed what it said were pictures of a weapons stockpile inside the Omari mosque, including pistols, shotguns, grenades and ammunition. A Syrian official told the AFP news agency that the governor of Daraa had been sacked following the killings.  Authorities have arrested a leading campaigner who had supported the protesters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday. It said Loay Hussein, a political prisoner, was taken from his home near Damascus.

A number of Syrian towns and cities saw demonstrations in recent days despite the country’s emergency law which bans protests that has been in place since 1963.

Violence condemned

The United Nations, France and the United States condemned the violence. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called for “a transparent investigation into the killings”. A spokesman for the US state department said Washington was alarmed by the situation and urged Syrian authorities to “exercise restraint and to refrain from violence”. “We are deeply concerned by the Syrian government’s use of violence, intimidation and arbitrary arrests to hinder the ability of its people to freely exercise their universal rights. We condemn these actions,” said Mark Toner.

On Tuesday, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Syrian authorities to halt the excessive use of force. “The government should carry out an independent, transparent and effective investigation into the killings of the six protesters during the events of 18 and 20 March,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Pillay, said on Tuesday.

Yemeni President Offers to Exit At End of Year (after his Generals defected to the Protestors)

Published in NY TIMES.

SANA, Yemen — As his tenuous grasp on power eroded further with more public figures defecting to the opposition, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has accepted a proposal by his adversaries to plan his departure from office by the end of the year, a government official said on Tuesday. Previously he had offered only to leave by 2013.

It was not clear whether his offer would appease protesters who have been incensed by a bloody assault on a demonstration last Friday that killed at least 45 people. The Yemeni leader shifted ground after a wave of high-level officials, including the country’s senior military commander, an important tribal leader and a half-dozen ambassadors abandoned him and threw their support behind protesters calling for his ouster.

The latest of the departures came on Tuesday when Abdel-Malik Mansour, Yemen’s representative to the Arab League, told Al Arabiya television he had thrown his support behind the protesters. Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani, the minister of water and environment, who was dismissed with the rest of the cabinet on Sunday, also said he was joining “the revolutionaries.”

A government official, who spoke in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said on Tuesday that the details of Mr. Saleh’s proposal were not yet clear and were “still in the works.” The opposition proposal urged Mr. Saleh to complete arrangements for his departure by the end of the year. But since then, the opposition has backed away from the offer, initially made at the beginning of March, saying they want Mr. Saleh to quit immediately.

As the country girded for the next stage of a deepening crisis, military units appeared to take sides in the capital on Monday, with the Republican Guard protecting the palace of President Saleh and soldiers from the First Armored Division under the defecting military commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, protecting the throngs of protesters in Sana. Despite a celebratory mood among the demonstrators, the standoff prompted the United States Embassy to urge Americans in Yemen to stay indoors on Monday night because of “political instability and uncertainty.”

In his letter of resignation on Tuesday, the former water minister declared: “It is becoming ridiculous that every member of the regime is now joining the revolution, when in fact they should surrender themselves to the revolution for trial for crimes that they committed against the people or looked the other way while these crimes were perpetrated on the people. Also, they should pledge not to occupy any public office in the future.”

Therefore, he wrote, “Having served as Minister of Water and Environment since 2006, hereby declare that I surrender to the Youth of the Revolution for fair accounting of any wrongs I may have committed against the people of Yemen and pledge not to hold any public office in the future.”

The defection of General Ahmar, who commands forces in the country’s northwest, was seen by many in Yemen as a turning point, and a possible sign that government leaders could be negotiating an exit for the president. But the defense minister, Brig. Gen. Muhammad Nasir Ahmad Ali, later said on television that the armed forces remained loyal to Mr. Saleh.

That suggested the possibility of a dangerous split in the military should Mr. Saleh, who dismissed his cabinet late Sunday night in the face of escalating opposition, decide to fight to preserve his 32-year rule. His son Ahmed commands the Republican Guard, and four nephews hold important security posts, and their ability to retain the loyalty of their troops in the face of ballooning opposition has yet to be tested.

The Obama administration has watched Mr. Saleh’s eroding position with alarm, for fear of both escalating violence and a power vacuum that might allow the branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen greater freedom to operate. Mr. Saleh has been a crucial ally in operations against the affiliate, called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which since 2009 has mounted multiple terrorist plots against the United States.

General Ahmar and more than a dozen other senior commanders who followed his example said they had decided to support the protesters after a bloody assault on a demonstration on Friday in which more than 45 people were killed. “I declare on their behalf our peaceful support for the youth revolution and that we are going to fulfill our complete duty in keeping the security and stability in the capital,” General Ahmar told Al Jazeera on Monday. He said that violence against protesters was “pushing the country to the edge of civil war.”

General Ahmar is sometimes described as a rival of the president, and he has long opposed the possible succession to the presidency of Mr. Saleh’s son Ahmed. But the general is from the same village as the president and has mostly been a pillar of support for Mr. Saleh.  By Monday afternoon, soldiers directed by General Ahmar stood among the demonstrators with black, white and red ribbons, the colors of Yemen’s flag, draped over their chests. “We are with the people,” said a group of soldiers guarding the main entrance of the protest.

At the same time, one of the country’s most important tribal leaders, Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, said Monday that he would join the country’s protest movement. He is the head of the Hashid tribal confederation, to which the president belongs, and his support for antigovernment demonstrations is another serious blow to Mr. Saleh. “Yemen is not the property of Ali Saleh or the Hashids,” Sheik Ahmar told protesters in Sana as he endorsed their movement.

By swinging the weight of the Hashid tribes behind the protests, Sheik Ahmar joined his brother, Sheik Hussein al-Ahmar, who resigned from the ruling party last month to join the demonstrators. Tribes from across Yemen have historically been embroiled in conflicts, but so far few squabbles have taken place among those who have joined the main protest in Sana, their leaders and other protesters said.

The shift in support by the tribal leader and military commanders came amid a stream of resignations by Yemeni officials on Monday, including the mayor of the restive southern city of Aden, a provincial governor and more than half of the country’s foreign ambassadors. The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said in Brussels on Monday that Mr. Saleh’s resignation was now “unavoidable.”  “This is a replicate of the changes that have happened in Egypt,” said a high-ranking Yemeni diplomat in Europe who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But, he added, it was still too soon to tell where events would lead.

The atmosphere was jubilant at the demonstration, which had grown to its largest size in weeks of rallies, with some men breaking into song. “The army knows that its correct place is to protect the people,” said Fawaz al-Muthlafy, an engineer from the central city of Taiz who has spent weeks at the sit-in protest. “The citizens are now receiving support from across the entire nation, and all our voices have been united.”

On a stage in front of the main gates of Sana University, an announcer welcomed a series of sheiks who voiced support for the demonstrations.  The country’s formal political opposition, which for the first time on Saturday joined street protests as a group, also welcomed the support of the commanders. “President Ali Abdullah Saleh will now see that change is a must,” said Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesman for the Joint Meetings Parties, Yemen’s coalition of opposition groups.

Benjamin Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday that violence against demonstrators was “unacceptable.”  “I think our view is that there’s clearly going to have to be a political solution in Yemen that includes a government that is more responsive to the Yemeni people,” Mr. Rhodes said. “That has been our consistent message to President Saleh.”

Gregory D. Johnsen, a Princeton University expert on Yemen, said the defection of General Ahmar, known popularly as Ali Mohsin, could well prove a lethal blow to Mr. Saleh’s rule. “Many people were waiting for him to make his move,” Mr. Johnsen said. “It’s opened the floodgates.”

General Ahmar, who is widely believed to hold the conservative religious views of the Salafi school, was responsible for helping Yemeni men who had fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan reintegrate into Yemeni society after their return in the 1990s and has since been an important government liaison to militant factions. American officials said that history is no indication of sympathy or tolerance for Al Qaeda. But they are uncertain about what an increase in General Ahmar’s influence might mean for Yemen and counterterrorism.

Abdullah Alsaidi, Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations, became one of a growing list of senior diplomats to resign after Friday’s violence. “I appeal to the president and to all others to work for a peaceful transfer of power,” Mr. Alsaidi said in an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday. “Yemen is a poor country,” he added, saying it could ill afford further bloodshed.