“They are ignoring all of our demands. They’re trying to bribe the Syrian people,” said Maltham Aumran, a Syrian cyber-activist who uses a pseudonym. “The people are not courageous enough yet” to demand regime change, he said. But he added, “It will come.”
In a country with one of the most repressive governments in the Arab world, the spreading protests appeared to break a long-standing taboo on dissent. The outcome matters not just for Syria — a majority-Sunni country of 22 million people — but for the region: The Damascus government wields enormous sway in neighboring Lebanon, has a decades-long history of conflict with Israel and is Shiite Iran’s most important Arab ally.
Anti-government demonstrations flared elsewhere in the Middle East on Friday. In Bahrain, security forces fired tear gas and pellets at thousands of people defying a ban on public gatherings, leading to the death of one protester, activists said. In Jordan, at least 120 people were injured as protesters demanding reforms clashed with government supporters and security forces in the capital, Amman. And in Yemen, protesters again took to the streets to demand President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster as other crowds rallied in support of the status quo.
In Syria, the call for nationwide demonstrations went out Thursday after it became clear that dozens of people had been killed the day before in a raid by security forces in the southwestern city of Daraa, the center of Syria’s burgeoning unrest.
Tens of thousands responded, in Daraa, Damascus and the cities of Homs, Latakia, Hama and Sanamein, according to witnesses and news service reports. Many demonstrators were seen on video footage calling for freedom and peace and chanting, “With our soul, with our blood, we’ll sacrifice for you, Daraa.”
The protests were met with beatings, detentions and, in some cases, live ammunition, witness and video reports indicated. But with journalists’ access to Syria restricted and most people afraid to speak on phones tapped by security services, it was unclear how many people were killed Friday. Human Rights Watch said it had no reliable figure, despite news agency reports citing witness accounts of at least 20 people being killed in just one town, Sanamein.
In Daraa, according to a witness reached by phone, security forces fired live ammunition and tear-gas rounds at crowds in the city center after protesters tried to destroy a statue of the Assad’s late father, President Hafez al-Assad, and tear down a portrait of the son.