At least 26 people — and as many as 34, according to human rights activists — were killed today in protests in Syria. Protests in the capital of Damascus were larger than they have been, while thousands — including women and children — rallied in the coastal city of Baniyas. Residents of Homs reported that security forces shot at four different neighborhoods.
The protests occurred after Friday prayers, as has repeatedly occurred throughout Syria since protests began in March in the southern city of Dara’a. The country-wide demonstrations occurred a day after President Barack Obama said that President Bashar al-Assad must lead a transition to a democracy or “get out of the way” in a speech about US policy in the region. From Obama’s speech:
Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens. The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.
The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests. It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.
The BBC reports that the Syrian government has accused Obama of meddling “in the internal affairs of the region’s countries, including Syria”; the US President’s speech was described as an “incitement.”
The BBC also reports that both the police forces and protesters took new measures that suggested that neither side is going to give in anytime soon. According to witnesses,
“The surprise today is that the security forces are resorting to several tactics to disperse the protests. These include firing shots at protesters and driving their vehicles into the middle of the protests.”
Every time youthful protesters were dispersed, they would “regroup with more enthusiasm and strength in defiance of the security”, the witness added.
The coastal city of Baniyas — which was subject to a crackdown by soldiers and tanks earlier this month — witnessed one of its largest demonstrations yet, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
Thousands of men, women and children took to the streets, with many of the men baring their chests to show they were not armed, the organisation told the AFP news agency.
This video shows protesters in Berze, a northeast suburb of Damascus, using back alleys where they can avoid being shot at by snipers.
Al-Jazeera reports that “regime supporters with iron bars had attacked a group of 500 to 700 worshippers as they left the Dahabiyyeh mosque in the Old City” after Friday prayers. Security forces have also used sticks, live ammuniation and tear gas against protesters.
Over 850 have died so far since the uprising in Syria began; about 4,000 people have fled into Lebanon. Syrian officials have, says the New York Times, “maintained that the government has the upper hand, in a sign that it believed the crackdown could bring quiet.” Indeed, in an interview with a Syrian newspaper this week, President Bashar al-Assad himself has said that “the unrest would soon come to an end” — though, if the message in the streets is any indication, his prediction may not come to pass.
This video shows Syrians burning Russian and Iranian flags in the city of Hama, described as a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood.
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