Civilian shootings and talk of civil war as unrest grows in Syria, Libya and Yemen

Syrian authorities are reported to have opened fire on protesters gathered outside a mosque in the city of Deraa killing at least five people under a government crackdown on protests, as political struggles continue to rock a number of Middle Eastern and African nations.

News of the deaths reflects continued uncertainty in Syria, Yemen and Libya, where reports of dissatisfaction and uprisings by swathes of their respective populations has led to violent confrontations, which in certain cases have led to bombing interventions by foreign military.

The BBC today said that five people were believed to have died as Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters in the streets outside Deraa’s Omari mosque as anti-government protests that begun in the country on Friday have continued to rage, leading to at least 10 fatalities.

The British news service also reported that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi used his first public address in a week to speak within a compound that appeared to have been destroyed during air strikes from a coalition of western nations, where he stated his continued defiance to rebels and foreign armed forces working to oppose him.

Following the UN Security Council’s resolution authorising military intervention in Libya, France, the UK and the US have attacked targets across the country in an effort to dismantle Gaddafi’s ability to contest a no fly zone, and prevent a retaliatory attack on targets like the rebel–occupied city of Benghazi.

According to the BBC, the Libyan leader called on “all Islamic armies” to join his opposition of rebels and foreign forces that have claimed to be attacking strategic points of Gaddafi’s governance and military power.

“Long live Islam everywhere. All Islamic armies must take part in the battle, all free [people] must take part in the battle… We will be victorious in the end,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has claimed that the rescue by US troops of an American pilot and a weapons officer who crashed in Libya has led to some difficult questions for the foreign coalition in the country. The paper reported that American forces stood accused of dropping two 500-pound bombs during the rescue operation raising the possibility of civilian casualties.

The rescued soldiers remain aboard a US vessel in the waters surrounding the African nation, but the paper reported that the Pentagon did not know whether any civilians were killed by the bombs dropped in Yemen.  An unnamed Marine Corps officer in the Mediterranean denied that any shots had been fired at civilians during the incident, according to the paper.

Al Jazeera meanwhile reported that air strikes instigated by foreign powers from across Europe and America – provisionally under the basis to try and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya – have not appeared to halt Gaddafi’s attacks on rebel forces made up of fellow countrymen that oppose him.

“Undaunted by air strikes launched by coalition warplanes aimed at enforcing a no-fly zone, pro-Gaddafi forces have pressed ahead with their assaults on the towns of Misurata, Ajdabiya and Zintan in the past 24 hours,” the news agency has said.

In trying to oppose the Libyan leader’s military muscle, Al Jazeera claimed that rebel forces were outgunned and had “little command structure” to oppose state attacks.

Meanwhile, amidst the conflict in Libya, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who also faces criticisms and calls to step down from his own people, has claimed that the country could potentially face civil war if he was forced from office.

Saleh, who also stands accused of using security forces to violently suppress protests among his people, is reported to have offered to stand down from his post at the end of the year under what he has said would be a “constitutional” transfer of power.

Al Jazeera reported though that the offer coincided with the president imposing a national state of emergency following violent “crackdowns” on anti-government protests with unconfirmed reports of 41 people having died in the capital of Sanaa alone due to the unrest.

According to the news agency, skepticism remains over Saleh’s reported offer after similar vows to stand down from the presidency back in 2005 did not come to pass. Saleh has been president since 1978.

The 22-member Arab League, which has previously called for a no-fly zone across Libya on the grounds that Gaddafi has been bombing his own people, has also moved to condemn Yemen’s leader for “crimes against civilians”, calling for a peaceful resolution to the country’s unrest.

The political unrest has continued following the fall in February of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunsian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, spreading to potential uprisings in other nations including Jordan and Algeria to Syria, Libya and Bahrain.

Mubarak, who was in power for 30 years, finally gave in after weeks of protests and stepped down from the presidency, handing power to an interim military government last month.

Swiss authorities announced following his resignation that they were freezing assets belonging to Mubarak and his family, pressuring the UK to do the same. Mubarak is thought to have a personal fortune of US$70 billion stashed across various bank accounts and property holdings all over the world.

That the people of one of the Middle East’s largest, oldest and most populated countries could not only overthrow but seek justice against a 30 year autocracy has sparked a wave of political dissent in the region.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported one senior western official of claiming at the time that “there has been an awakening of political awareness among the young who have been waiting for solutions that have never come and are not really in the menu now. They are saying: ‘Why should we carry on like this?’”