By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – The end of Ramadan brought more of the same to the Syrian people. Over the past two days, security forces began a new series of raids intent on crushing dissent against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Tuesday morning, at least seven people were killed when security forces fired at protesters who had gathered outside of mosques following their morning prayers to mark the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday. These latest crackdowns come in the face of continued international pressure.
“They don’t want us to have any peaceful day,” Um Mohammad, a mother of two from Damascus, told the New York Times. “We are grieving this Id, and we were not going to celebrate, so they didn’t have to kill more people today,” she added, referring to the feast of Id al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Syria appears to be in a state of flux at this time. Although raids have continued, reports have emerged to indicate that dozens of soldiers have deserted their posts to join the uprising against Assad. In response to the defections, the country’s security forces surrounded Rastan, a town outside Homs, the country’s third largest city, early Monday morning. According to a Rastan resident who called himself Raed during a telephone interview with Reuters, the defections began three months ago after tanks entered the town to crush street protests, reportedly killing dozens of civilians. Other defections took place Sunday, when several dozen soldiers disobeyed orders to fire on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Al Ghouta. The targeted activists were attempting to march toward Damascus. The recent defections may have been influenced by the recent fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya.
But even as these recent shootings took place, the international community continues its responses. During Monday’s crackdowns, ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss further action against Syria, including the possibility of a resolution or sanctions. The European Union has also stopped making loans through its European Investment Bank.
Turkey, which borders Syria and has been a prime destination for refugees of the Assad regime, expressed concern about its neighbor’s efforts to beat back dissent.
“The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people’s demands,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness.”
Even Iran, Syria’s closest ally, has called for Assad to listen to his people’s protests. “The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, on Saturday. “The people of these nations have legitimate demands, and the governments should answer these demands as soon as possible.”
Despite Salehi’s statement, he also mentioned fear that the situation needed to be handled delicately. He considered the possibility of regional chaos to be great.
Ironically, Assad also performed the traditional prayer in Damascus, accompanied by high officials within the Muslim religion, calling for peace within his country. He used the occasion to reiterate his belief that Syria was reacting properly and was on a steady path to reform. In the meantime, the stability of the Assad regime may depend on the strength of its security force. Protests have yet to reach the stronghold of Damascus, so security forces have been able to concentrate on the sites of protest, instead of protecting the cities from activists.
For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera — Syrian protesters ‘killed’ after Eid prayers — 30 August 2011
BBC — Is Syria slipping out of the grasp of its rulers? — 30 August 2011
New York Times — Security Forces in Syria Fire on Worshipers as Ramadan Ends — 30 August 2011
SANA — President Bashar al-Assad Performs Eid Al-Fitr Prayer at President Hafez al-Assad Mosque — 30 August 2011
Al Bawaba — European Investment Bank stops loans to Syria — 29 August 2011
Al Bawaba — Syrian forces continue raids as Erdogan warns Assad — 29 August 2011
Al Jazeera — Syria forces surround town after ‘defections’ — 29 August 2011
New York Times — Amid Syrian Raids, Reports of Desertions — 29 August 2011
New York Times — Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens’ Demands — 27 August 2011