International

Syrian security forces open fire at protesters

Thousands of Syrians chanting “We aren’t afraid!” took to the streets on Friday, calling for President Bashar Assad’s downfall and pledging support for the besieged southern city of Daraa, where Army tanks and snipers are trying to crush the six-week uprising, witnesses said.

Syrian security forces opened fire on demonstrations in the capital of Damascus and the coastal city of Latakia — the heartland of the ruling elite — wounding at least five people. State-run television said a military post in Daraa was stormed by armed men who killed four soldiers and captured two.

Other demonstrations were reported in the central city of Homs, the coastal cities of Banias and Latakia, the northern cities of Raqqa and Hama, and the northeastern town of Qamishli.

Since the uprising in Syria began in mid-March, inspired by revolts across the Arab world, more than 450 people have been killed nationwide, activists say.

A witness in Daraa, the city at the centre of the revolt, said residents were staying home because the city has been under siege by the military since Monday, when thousands of soldiers stormed in backed by tanks and snipers. People were too afraid even to venture out to mosques for prayers, the witness said.

“We are in our houses but our hearts are in the mosques,” the witness said, asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals.

“Oh great Syrian Army! Lift the blockade on Daraa!” protesters chanted in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh, according to video footage posted by activists on YouTube.

Outside Homs, thousands chanted “We don’t love you!” and “Bye, bye Bashar! We will see you in The Hague!” as the sound of gunfire crackled in the distance.

Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian, anti-Western regimes in the Arab world.

Mr. Assad’s regime has stepped up its deadly crackdown on protesters in recent days by unleashing the army along with snipers and tanks. On Friday, protesters came out in their thousands, defying the crackdown and using it as a rallying cry.

Assad’s attempts to crush the revolt — the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty — have drawn international criticism and threats of sanctions from European countries and the United States.

The government says the protests are a foreign conspiracy carried out by extremist forces and armed thugs, not true reform-seekers.

Syrian TV said “armed terrorists” attacked a military post in the southern city of Daraa, killing four soldiers and capturing two. The station also said one of its cameramen was injured in Latakia in an attack by an armed gang.

A witness in Latakia said about 1,000 people turned out for an anti-government rally when plainclothes security agents with automatic rifles opened fire. He said he saw at least five people wounded. Like many witnesses contacted by The Associated Press, he asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisal.

In Damascus’ central Midan neighborhood, witnesses said about 500 people marched and chanted, “God, Syria and freedom only!” in a heavy rain, but security forces opened fire with bullets and tear gas, scattering them. It was not clear if there were injuries.

The government had warned against holding any demonstrations on Friday and placed large banners around the capital that read: “We urge the brother citizens to avoid going out of your homes on Friday for your own safety.” Syrian TV said the Interior Ministry has not approved any “march, demonstration or sit-in” and that such rallies seek only to harm Syria’s security and stability.

Many of the protests were held in solidarity with more than 50 people killed in the last week in Daraa. A devastating picture was emerging from the city — which is largely sealed off, without electricity, water and telephones — as residents flee to neighbouring countries.

At the Jordanian side of the Syrian border, several Daraa residents who had just crossed over said there is blood on the streets of the city.

“Gunfire is heard across the city all the time,” one man said, asking that his name not be used for fear of retribution. “People are getting killed in the streets by snipers if they leave their homes.”

An AP reporter at the border heard gunfire and saw smoke rising from different areas just across the frontier. Residents said the gunfire has been constant for three weeks.

The Muslim Brotherhood urged Syrians to demonstrate on Friday against Mr. Assad in the first time the outlawed group has openly encouraged the protests in Syria. The Brotherhood was crushed by Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, after staging an uprising against his regime in 1982.

“You were born free, so don’t let a tyrant enslave you,” said the statement, issued by the Brotherhood’s exiled leadership.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 8:49:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/Syrian-security-forces-open-fire-at-protesters/article14905391.ece

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