The city of Deraa, where Syria’s anti-government protest movement began nearly two months ago, has become a giant death trap, with tanks leveling entire neighborhoods and snipers taking out anyone in their sights. The city has no power and is running out of food and water. Meanwhile, bodies of residents and protesters are piling up, as security forces have orders to shoot anyone who tries to bury the dead.
But the crackdown is not without repercussions: There are reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing unprecedented dissent within the military and government. “The largest funerals in Syria so far have been for soldiers who have refused to obey orders to shoot protesters and were summarily executed on the spot,” a senior diplomat told the Globe and Mail. —YL
Yesterday, though, as Syrian security forces drew their stranglehold ever tighter, helicopters backed by tanks dropped troops onto the mosque’s grey ramparts, in what seemed to be a symbolic move to stamp their authority on the town. After spraying the Roman quarter with shellfire, and killing a mother and two children in the process, the soldiers converted the Omari’s minaret to a different purpose - as yet another snipers’ nest from which to terrify the city.
“There are snipers on the roof of the mosque,” said one eyewitness, sobbing over the phone as he spoke. “My family and friends are being slaughtered.”
This was the scene in Deraa yesterday, where a growing picture of horror is emerging as Syrian governnment forces relentlessly punish the city that hosted the first protests against President Bashar al Assad’s dictatorial rule in late March.
Since the arrival on Monday of the feared 4th Brigade, controlled by President Assad’s brother, Maher, the reprisals have grown ever fiercer. Deraa’s 120,000 residents say their town is now effectively one giant prison, with rooftop snipers shooting anyone who strays into their sights. Troops have also cut off power supplies, blown up water tanks, and raided bakeries, milk depots and food shops, in a systematic bid to starve them out. “We are living in the dark, suffering boredom and fear,” one resident told The Sunday Telegraph. “If you go out, you know you will probably die. But if we stay at home, we will probably also die. We are running out of food, of water, of medicine.”
Security forces and protesters clash in Deraa, Syria.