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July 21, 2011

Syrian Protests Ripple Across Nation Despite Crackdown

by Al Pessin

Tens of thousands of Syrians continued to protest against their government Friday, in spite of a growing crackdown and the deaths of dozens of people during the past week.  Reports from Syria say security forces killed at least six more people Friday, after five were killed in clashes overnight.

Amateur video distributed by the Associated Press appears to show Syrian protesters fleeing tear gas fired by security forces Friday after midday prayers.

The protesters chant, "The people want the fall of the regime," in the footage reportedly recorded in a mainly Kurdish town on the Turkish border.

VOA's Susan Yackee speaks with a Syrian activist, who prefers to remain anonymous and monitors the situation from here in the U.S:

The AP could not confirm the authenticity of the video, but said it came from a reliable source.

That was just one of many protests Friday in various parts of the country reported by activists and Human Rights groups. Peter Bouckaert is the Emergencies Director for Human Rights Watch in Geneva.

"There was a very extensive deployment of security forces across the country, especially in Aleppo and in the capital, Damascus," said Bouckaert.  "But despite this heavy deployment, protesters have once again gone out all over the country in very large numbers."

Bouckaert says protests were particularly large this week because of anger over dozens of deaths caused by security forces in recent days in the town of Homs. He says the first large-scale night protests were held late Thursday and into Friday morning.

In addition, he reports that hundreds of thousands rallied in the central city of Hama, where security forces have reportedly withdrawn.

"It really does appear that the capacity of the Syrian state to continue this very violent crackdown is stretched to the limit," added Bouckaert.  "And it's uncertain whether they will be able to continue to use this extreme violence against what is still a mostly non-violent protest movement. The regime is running out of options and running out of time."

The Human Rights Watch official says his group and Syrian activists have documented the defection of dozens of soldiers, who he says are not willing to fire on protesters.

But at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs, Syria watcher Nadim Shehadi believes President Bashar al-Assad will continue his crackdown as long as he receives what Shehadi believes are mixed signals from the West.

Shehadi says President Assad believes the now-deposed leaders of Egypt and Tunisia gave in to protesters too quickly during the start of the so-called Arab Spring protests, and he does not want to make the same mistake.

Still, Shehadi says with the right combination of domestic and international pressure, the more than 40-year-long reign of Assad and his father could be brought to an end.

"The regime will crumble much faster than we think," Shehadi  said.  "The structure of it is much weaker than we think.  And the aftermath of the crumbling of the regime is a mystery to everybody."

Analysts say direct Western intervention in Syria is not likely, and after months of protests and crackdowns, they say neither side in the Syrian conflict can see a way out through compromise. They say that probably means more weeks, maybe months, of violence.

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