It is now clear that the speech by Bashar al-Assad to the newly sworn in cabinet was to little to late. In the beginning protesters asked for dignity, reforms – an end to the emergency laws, an end to corruption (as symbolised by Rami Makhluf) and true democracy . They were met with bullets. The speech the Bashar al-Assad held on 30th March to cheering sycophantic parliamentarians impressed no one, was a slap in the face to the protesters in Daraa and Latakia and poured ‘gasoline’ on the fires’. Protests spread to other cities such as Baniyas, Bayna, Douma, Aleppo and Damascus. And now Homs. Now protesters are calling for an end to the regime.
During the night Syrians gathered in Homs and peacefully occupied the clock tower square. They protested against the regime the day after activists claim 25 people were killed in Homs. This was not to last as Syrian security forces launched an attack against the protesters. Security forces called in the protesters through a bull horn informing them that they had until 02:30 to leave the square. At 02:15 the security forces fired on protesters with tear gas and live fire. Information is at present sketchy but it seems that at least two people were killed and as many as ten.
Yesterday similar demonstrations took place in the south – Daraa and surrounding towns, Muadimiye, Duma, Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) and North West in Latakia, Jableh and Hama. The later is of special significance is this is where the massacre to place in 1982 when forces loyal to the regime put down an insurrection against the regime killing somewhere between 10 000 and 25 000 people. That the people of Hama has decided to throw in their lot is a crucial signal – that the memory of the brutal crackdown of 1982 is not forgotten but that the fear is created is finally over.
That fact that protests are taking place in Homs and Hama are not lost to the regime. In the days after the speech by president al-Assad to the cabinet, which failed to appease protesters the Syrian regime has mounted a PR-campaign aimed at establishing that they are facing an armed insurrection: Customs have caught an Iraqi driver smuggling state of the art weapons through Al-Tanf border crossing, reports of the killing and wounding of police officers by armed gangs outside Homs, acts of sabotage, murder (and the mutilations of the bodies) of a high ranking military officer, his two sons and nephew, attacks in police and the murder of a young entrepreneur – all which took place in Homs. And finally the statement from the minister of interior, that what Syrian provinces have witnessed of killing and aggression was armed mutiny led by Salafi armed groups.
This escalation of words and actions by the Syrian regime is most alarming. It must now be clear to them that the protests will not go away through speeches, the promise of reforms or even the lifting of the emergency law. The Syrian regime is now fighting for its survival and the signals are that they have might have singled out Homs for special treatment, a brutal crackdown aimed at breaking the back of the protesters.