Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finally, the Syrian Revolt Reaches the Capital

by Rick Moran

President Assad has kept the lid on dissent in Syria's two largest cities over the past year - Damascus and Aleppo - trying to prevent the loss of those two key urban areas to the chaos that has engulfed much of the rest of the country.

But you apparently can't keep the protestors bottled up forever.


For months the unrest that erupted across Syria last year, when opponents of President Bashar al-Assad demonstrated for greater rights, was held at bay from the government stronghold of Damascus, even as street protests turned to armed struggle.

Now Damascenes feel the unrest is encroaching on their homes and the sense of unease is tangible.

Frequent explosions shake the city, ranging from a bombing which killed at least nine people in the Midan district 10 days ago to nightly blasts, many of which remain unexplained.

Activists blame some of the detonations on Assad's security forces, saying they are deliberately heightening the sense of insecurity as part of efforts to portray a popular uprising as a violent campaign by foreign-backed militants.

They say soldiers and police have carried out waves of arrests in Damascus during attempts to suppress months of peaceful protests, fired on marchers and shelled the eastern suburbs of the capital for weeks to dislodge rebel fighters.

In the city itself, blast walls now surround several government buildings and some streets are blocked on Fridays, when protesters pour out of mosques here and across the country to demand an end to more than four decades of Assad family rule.

"Security-wise maybe we are still okay here in Damascus, but for how long? We feel it is getting closer and closer," said Mervat, a 33-year-old woman whose husband is a clothes merchant in central Damascus.

"All this shooting at night terrifies the children. Three days ago the clashes were in my street," she said.

There have been "hit and run" protests in Damascus and Aleppo as dozens of activists will coordinate through social media and show up at a designated street corner or parking lot and chant anti-Assad slogans for a few minutes, disappearing before state security has a chance to respond. News of the protests sweeps through the neighborhoods and districts, giving heart to opponents of the regime and striking fear in the hears of its supporters.

So far, the kind of mass protests that have been seen in Homs and Hama are missing from Damascus, although there have been a few demonstrations of several hundred activists that were quickly squelched by police.

Damascus and Aleppo are more likely to experience street fighting and terrorist attacks than any kind of mass uprising. But opponents of the Assad regime can take heart that the battle is being joined in the capitol, hinting that it's only a matter of time before the storm hits.

Rick Moran


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