(HN, March 23, 2011) -- It may be too early to call the demonstrations in the small city of Daraa a “revolution”. However, it is clear that the wave of political unrest in the Middle East has reached this southern Syrian city.
For nearly a week now protests have been ongoing there with demonstrators calling for freedom and for the end of corruption - the protests have been met with violence from security forces that have so far claimed the lives of five innocent civilians.
Rights activists in Syria say security forces carried out a deadly attack near a mosque where anti-government protesters have gathered opening fire near the mosque where demonstrators have gathered. However state media said "an armed gang" was behind violence in the southern city of Daraa early Wednesday.
Syria's state news agency SANA quotes an official source as saying the gang attacked an ambulance near the city's Omari mosque, killing a doctor, a paramedic and a driver. The report says security forces confronted the attackers and "hit and arrested" some of them. A member of the security forces was also reported killed in the incident.
HUMNews has not been able to immediately reconcile the conflicting reports.
Security forces killed four demonstrators in Daraa when protests erupted on Friday. Another demonstrator was killed on Sunday, and an 11-year-old boy died Monday after suffering tear gas inhalation.
In an attempt to contain the unrest, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Tuesday fired the governor of Daraa Province. But his dismissal failed to quell popular anger as protests reached several neighboring towns.
Authorities have also ramped up detentions across the country. A Syrian rights organization said police arrested a prominent activist Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Loay Hussein, a former political prisoner who had spoken out in favor of the protests, was taken from his home near the capital, Damascus. Rights groups have reported dozens more "arbitrary and random arrests."
Protesters are demanding Assad end Syria's emergency law, which has been in place since 1963 when the Baath party took power, banning any opposition to its rule. In addition protesters are demanding Syria curb its pervasive security apparatus, free thousands of political prisoners and allow freedom of expression. Activists have so far not called for the end of his government.
Assad was popularly elected by 97% of all votes in 2000. He pledged to fight corruption, guarantee his people more freedom of expression and would adopt a more liberal market policy.
It became clear a few years into his rule that he has failed miserably on the first two and partially succeeded on the later pledge.
Last year, Human Rights Watch published an extensive report about the human rights situation in Syria in which the organization concluded that Assad's decade in power was marked by repression.
Assad belongs to the ruling Alawite minority party whose members have full control over military and intelligence posts. The rest of the Syrian population is made up of a Sunni majority, Christians, Kurds, Ismailis and Duruz. There are also over 1 million Palestinian immigrants and more recently over 1 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria.
The United States and the United Nations have called for an independent investigation into the recent violence.
- HUMNews staff