Omari Mosque in Dara’a Seized by Troops: Has the West Been Naive About Syria?

On Saturday, government forces seized the Omari Mosque in the southern city of Dara’a. As the New York Times says, the mosque had become the symbolic center of the opposition of the country’s six week uprising against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Six were killed in the assault in which four tanks and 20 armored personnel carriers were dispatched to Dara’a at dawn.

Among those killed was the son of the mosque’s preacher, Sheik Ahmed Siasna. He had been a member of a delegation who met with Assad three weeks ago to discuss potential reforms in Syria. According to some reports, the preacher has also been arrested.

Snipers are now stationed on the roof of the mosque. The BBC says that no one is allowed to hold funerals in Dara’a. People are banned even from going out to pray and bodies are being held in makeshift morgues while “unverified video footage showed fully-clothed bodies piled inside a large vegetable freezer.”

Also on Saturday, 138 members of the ruling Baath Party in the southern Hawran region, where Dara’a is located, resigned. The Syrian Centre for the Defence of Prisoners of Conscious reports that veteran opposition figure Hassan Abdul Azim, 81, was detained in Damascus, while another longtime opposition leader, 85-year-old Omar Qashash, was arrested in Aleppo. In the al-Salihiya district of Damascus, eleven women were arrested after participating in a silent all-female demonstration in support of the residents of Dara’a.

The Guardian‘s foreign affairs editor, Peter Beaumont, analyzes the situation in Syria and how it is sending “shockwaves” through the Middle East. Since coming to power after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has carefully cultivated an image as a figure of reform and change. Assad was educated as an ophthalmologist in London and his wife, Asma, was born in England and worked as an investment banker prior to their marriage; just as the uprising in Syria was beginning, she was featured in a “gushing Vogue magazine [article], which included pictures of Assad playing with his sons.”

But, as Beaumont writes:

…in the last few weeks that early image has seemed sharply at odds with the acts carried out in Assad’s name in a murderous clampdown on those demonstrating against the regime, which has so far claimed more than 400 lives as Syrian towns have been put under siege – an entire country locked down

What is less clear now is who Assad really is and what he represents. Indeed, how powerful he really is. On Friday, when a “day of rage” was called to follow Friday prayers – this time endorsed by the banned Muslim Brotherhood – Assad had taken a leaf out of the book of deposed President Mubarak of Egypt and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, flooding the streets with armed security forces even as his opponents demonstrated in more than 50 locations.

Although protests have been taking place weekly after Friday prayers, last week felt different because for the first time, the Assad regime had offered no concessions the day before. There were also the resignations of several hundred members of Assad’s Ba’ath party, and reports of clashes between members of the Syrian army’s 4th Brigade, commanded by the president’s younger brother Maher, and the 5th Brigade outside Deraa, the besieged town that has become the symbol of the Syrian uprising. And last week felt different because of the horrors that have taken place as the regime of Bashar al-Assad has opted for repression rather than concession.

As it has cracked down, so the regime has blamed the violence on a farcically broad range of culprits: armed gangs, Lebanese legislators, Saudis, Palestinian extremists – all with ominous overtones of the 1980s and Assad’s father’s most infamous massacre.

As Beaumont writes, the international community is far more concerned about chaos in Syria, due to its strategic location — Syria borders Iraq, Israel and Lebanon — and its effect on the peace process in the Middle East. Syria also has close ties to Iran.

Beaumont quotes Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem about the “naivety that has driven western foreign policy towards Syria for more than a decade”:

Writing in Foreign Policy last week, he said: “Over the last 10 years many western politicians and scholars took the road to Damascus, holding out hope that the young Syrian president Bashar al-Assad would lead Syria out of the political wilderness and place it on the path of political and economic reform.

While the US moved on Friday to impose sanctions on Syria, Assad himself was “noticeably absent from the list of targets,” while his younger brother Maher, who commands the country’s Syrian army’s 4th Brigade, was named, as well Assad’s cousin Atif Najib and the Iranian al-Quds forces “which the US accuses of channelling riot equipment to the regime.”

At least 66 were killed in Dara’a on Friday, says the BBC. According to human rights groups, 535 have been killed since the protests began in February in Dara’a. Below is a video of soldiers in the streets of Dara’a on April 29th..


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Image from screenshot of video by AbuSilmya via YouTube.


jane richmond
jane richmond8 years ago

We are so concerned with not offending anyone that we let some spit in our faces.

Paul Diamond
Paul Diamond8 years ago

It is said,"As you sow, so shall you reap."
For more than 5 decades after the World War against the Axis powers we carried on a cold war against the Soviet Union. It was a struggle for influence. We supported any government no matter how despotic. We supported any government no matter how oppressive. We supported any government no matter how cruel. No matter how brutal. No matter how unjust. No matter how barbaric.
We treated those who rose up against their oppressers as vermin to be exterminated.
The message we sent was that despotism is accdeptable. that justice is a myth.
Now that the despots we have supported, accepted even acclaimed are behaving in a way that we have approved for more than half a century. Despots who are behaving according to their nature. How can we now shake our fingers and say,"Stop being voracious wolves and be good puppy dogs."

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm8 years ago

Syria is not our business. They have their own country and their own ways. The leaders there are worried about the Muslim Brotherhood. At least that would be my guess. Regardless, it isnt our job to make Syria like us. There are dynamics there we have no clue about. There are radicals there we have no clue about. Let Syria take care of Syria's business. Mark is 200% correct. The everyday people there are likely very nice people. The everyday people in Iran are also. Its the leaders that may not be. We are sitting here half way around the world trying to guess why Assad is doing what he is doing. Its foolish. Things aren't always as they appear.....and you surely wont find out from our "press".

Carol H.
Past Member 8 years ago

All of the monies sent to the Middle East should be stopped and used for the suffering peoples in the USA because we really don't where the monies are going and who is getting the money like the man that was killed "TODAY" of which I don't believe in one moment in time I think he would say anything to keep his numbers high furthermore as I saw one man said why should we care if he buried like they want he didn't care about our people we should be able to see his body and this DNA test can't believe that either.

I don't believe a thing he does not a thing and that is a my fact.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A8 years ago

Money going to the Middle east (includes Billions to Isreal). Where a failed state is kept afloat by hard earned Dollars of the working class.
These billions buy and allow Isreal to keep spending on expanding its illegal borders and settlements which is a smack in the face of the civilised world.

Where the indigenous population is caged in little settlements and are deprived of every thing they owned. These privileges are awarded for free to illegal immigrants to Palestine by the courtesy of civilised USA. They are not even Jews but economic immigrants subsidised by USA Dollars.

These Billions buy or develop the latest killing machines from around the world or just demand from USA for ethnic cleansing and apartheid actions of the failed state.
Non of the ruling presidents or other so called important personnel have a spine to stand up against them or even to utter a word which goes against the Nazi Zionists.

David M.
Eva Daniher8 years ago


Jay Dreher
Jay Dreher8 years ago

We have been delving into Middle East affairs for far too long now and not much good has come out of it. Maybe we should take care of ourselves first and then worry about the other countries after we get our country back in order.

Mara C.
Past Member 8 years ago

I agree with Lin Moy. Stop sending money to the Middle East. We need it here to help with so many natural disasters that have left AMERICANS & their PETS homeless. Let's leave the rest of the world to their own devices and look to pay China back ASAP. All we need is for them to call in our debt.

Lin Moy
Lin M8 years ago

We need to stay in our country and let them do what they will.. We are still sending them aid, just not right. Use our money here for those that need aid and would be greatfull for the hand up.

Mark Grantham
Mark Grantham8 years ago

Somehow I get the impression that my statements were taken the wrong way! I do not want to be anti Obama, he is a great and fine President, trying to fix the problems he inherited.
I was proud to be American, and was received extremely well by the Syrians, except during the War on Gaza, which I was totally against, and then I was Canadian. In my eyes, the West and the Middle East are different entities, and it troubles me to read where the West wants countries to behave in a westerly manner.
It is really easy to condemn a country or a ruler, but not as easy to find solutions. We ALL need solutions right now, we are guaranteed change in our lives, change needs to be embraced and looked at in a positive manner.