The largest demonstrations held in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, since the beginning over a year ago of the revolutionary movement in that country, were held on Friday. In part, they were provoked by the brutality of regime troops toward student protesters at the university in Aleppo on Thursday. The Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad responded with tear gas and batons, and there were some injuries reported. Tens of thousands of people came out in the streets in other cities as well on Friday in a continued effort to topple the regime.
Aleppo is a city of about 2 million (roughly the size of Houston) in a country of about 22 million, and is the most populous urban area (the capital, Damascus, has slightly fewer people but is obviously more politically important). About 12 percent of the population of Aleppo is Christian, and it has Kurds among its Sunni Muslims.
Because the Syrian Christians had been fearful of Muslim extremists coming to power if al-Assad were overthrown, they haven’t been active in the revolt for the most part. (Some of the Christians there are refugees from Iraq, who have horror stories of what happens to Christians when a secular ruling party like the Baath is overthrown, and they have helped induce caution in their coreligionists in Syria and Lebanon). And many Sunni business families in Aleppo, of a secular bent, had the same fears.
But if the regime is going to send uniformed thugs onto the college campus and rough up their children, the Aleppines can be provoked. And they were, on Friday.
If Aleppo continues to turn against the regime, it is a perhaps fatal blow to the Baath. Eventually Damascus itself is likely to be radicalized, and once the capital turns on its government, it is hard for the President to avoid being put on a helicopter. That development still does require that the officer corps split or remain neutral, which is difficult in Syria because the president’s brother, Maher al-Assad, commands the tank corps. A coup against Maher by a combination of reformist Allawite junior officers and Sunni colleagues would probably be necessary to achieve that result. (The upper echelons of the Baath civilian and military elite is disproportionately drawn from the Allawite Shiite majority, about 10% of the Syrian population). [++]
[Why] were we so surprised when the “Free Syrian Army” fled the city? Did we really expect the Assad regime to close up shop and run because a few hundred men with Kalashnikovs wanted to stage a miniature Warsaw uprising in Homs? Did we really believe that the deaths of women and children – and journalists – would prevent those who still claim the mantle of Arab nationalism from crushing the city? When the West happily adopted the illusions of Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Hillary Clinton – and the Arab Gulf states whose demands for Syrian “democracy” are matched by their refusal to give this same democracy to their own people – the Syrians understood the hypocrisy.
Were the Saudis, now so keen to arm Syria’s Sunni insurgents – along with Sunni Qatar – planning to surrender their feudal, princely Sunni power to their own citizens and to their Shia minority? Was the Emir of Qatar contemplating resignation? Among the lobbyists of Washington, among the illusionists at the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation and the Council on Foreign Relations and all the other US outfits that peddle New York Times editorials, Homs had become the new Benghazi, the start-line for the advance on Damascus.
The humanitarian situation on the ground in Baba Amr until this moment is still a mix of rocket launchers, tanks, Mortar launchers hitting the area from all side. More than 500 shells have come down on us since the morning, targetting homes, protest places and mosques and Alanwar Mosque was shelled with more than 10 shells which led to the destruction of a large part of it, surrounding homes were also destroyed. The humanitarian condition is difficult at the moment, there is no bread, no medication and no nutritional supplies and as we mentioned in our last report, a field hospital was targetted and we lost a number of our medical crew. There is no form of communication inside the area and any moving thing is targeted by snipers surrounding the area.
Life is in a complete stand still, there is no escape or safe passage from the area and there is no safe shelter inside the area from the rockets and shells.
Though we’ve learned the era of silence is over, nights like tonight leave you speechless, without words. Or words that are not like words. Words that are physically felt, like a chest tightened with dread or burning eyes depleted of tears. Words that cannot express what the wailing minarets of Homs’ mosques sound like; the language of desperation is universal. When towers of stone scream and weep, we have reached the limit of words.Jadaliyya | Nothing but my Words (via sharquaouia)
Fresh violence has erupted in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, a day after armed forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad barraged residential buildings with mortars and machine-gun fire and killed at least 30 people, activists have said.
Heavy gunfire erupted for a second day on Friday in the city, which has seen some of the heaviest violence of the 10-month-old uprising against Assad’s rule. Activists said at least 33 people have been killed across the country since Thursday. […]
The pre-dawn assault in Homs, and reports of similar offensives against Hama and other cities, came hours after the United Nations said it could no longer keep track of the death toll in Syria, which it put at more than 5,400 over a month ago. The Homs raid began in the Karm Al-Zeitoun neighbourhood, with the Syrian Human Rights Observatory reporting 33 people killed in Syria’s third-largest city, 160km north of the capital. […]
The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), which organise protests on the ground, said that by Friday regime forces had pounded the Bab Seba neighbourhood with heavy artillery and rocket fire.
Fighting was also heard in Baba Amro district. The LCC said three people were killed early on Friday in Homs and said two more were killed in Idlib province in the northwest and one in the Damascus suburbs.
[The] flashpoint central city, Hama, also came under assault in the early hours of Friday, with intense firing from heavy machine guns and loud explosions heard.
When the haze dissipates in the late afternoon light, and when the last unfortunate souls hurry across the open space, running in a zigzag pattern, hunting season begins on Cairo Street. There is random shooting all day long at this spot, but from this moment on the shooting becomes targeted. A few people make it to the other side on this day, but one does not. He screams and falls to the ground as he is hit. He was carrying a loaf of bread, something that was no longer available on his side of Cairo Street.
Pedestrians are rarely targeted in the morning. But beginning in the afternoon and continuing throughout the night, the wide, straight street that separates the Khalidiya and Bayada neighborhoods becomes a death zone. That’s when they — the snipers working for Syrian intelligence, who are nothing more than death squads, and the Shabiha killers, known as “the ghosts,” mercenaries who are paid daily wages and often earn a little extra income by robbing their victims — shoot at anything that moves.
The map of Homs is a topography of terror these days. Entire sections of Syria’s third-largest city are besieged. Hundreds of thousands have become the hostages of a regime whose president, Bashar Assad, insisted with a chuckle in an interview with America’s ABC News, that only a madman would order his forces to shoot at his own people.
Syria’s opposition has called for international intervention in the central city of Homs, one of the focal points of the country’s uprising, calling it a “humanitarian disaster area”.
The appeal, issued by the Turkey-based Syrian National Council, comes as activists reported that at least eight people were killed across the country on Monday, including two children, in an ongoing crackdown by security forces.
Activists said that at least five of the dead were in Homs as hundreds of residents protested against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, adding that government troops stormed several areas and made house-to-house arrests.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said: “People there are trying to tell the government that they will not succumb and they will continue to protest until they topple the regime…despite the heavy presence of the security forces.”
More than 110 people have been killed in the past week in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network.
In a statement, the Syrian National Council urged the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and the Arab League to act “to stop the massacre committed by the regime”.
It also called on the international community to send “Arab and international observers, instantly, to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground, and prevent the regime from continuing to commit brutal massacres.”
The Arab League has called a meeting in Cairo next Saturday on what it calls Syria’s failure to implement a peace plan, announced by the body last week following talks with Syrian officials.
The League said the meeting was called because of “the continuation of violence and because the Syrian government did not implement its commitments in the Arab plan to resolve the Syrian crisis.” [++]