Syrian Forces Kill 17 During Friday Protests
One day after President Obama said that he had the choice of leading a transition to democracy or getting out of the way, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s security forces gunned down 17 protesters who had taken to the streets in defiance of a government order:
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Thousands of Syrians defied a ferocious crackdown and took to the streets Friday across the country in what appeared to be an invigorated moment in the nine-week uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Human rights activists said at least 17 people were killed when security forces opened fire.
In an unsettling sign for the government, protesters gathered in greater numbers in the capital, Damascus, which has remained relatively quiet until now. Thousands also took part in protests in Baniyas, a coastal town besieged by troops only weeks ago, though the army has said it recently withdrew forces from the area.
The turnout, though still far short of the mass demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, suggested that the Syrian government’s sweeping crackdown, in which hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested, is proving incapable of crushing the dissent. Though the government has offered tentative steps at reform, opposition figures have demanded an end to the government’s violence, a step it so far appears unwilling to take.
Last week, the demonstrations and the death toll were smaller than on previous Fridays. But the turnout Friday in towns and cities across the country — from the Kurdish-dominated east to the suburbs of Damascus and restive towns like Baniyas and Homs — suggested at least a degree of organization, activists said.
The protests came as the Obama administration has ratcheted up pressure on Mr. Assad. The administration imposed sanctions on him this week. And in Mr. Obama’s major address on the Middle East on Thursday, he used some of his harshest language yet on the government crackdown, saying that Mr. Assad “now has a choice. He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.”
Syrian officials have maintained that the government has the upper hand, in a sign that it believed the crackdown could bring quiet. Mr. Assad himself said in an interview with a Syrian newspaper this week that the unrest would soon come to an end.
Protests were reported in Homs and Hama, both in central Syria, as well as in the towns of Baniyas and Latakia along the Mediterranean coast. More demonstrations gathered in Houran, a province where the uprising began and where protests suggest a region in revolt.
In Homs, a resident said that security forces shot at protesters in four different neighborhoods. “They were chasing the protesters with their cars and then started shooting at them,” a man who identified himself as Abu Haydar said by phone. Like others interviewed, he did not give his surname for fear of retribution.
There will be cries of outrage but, in the end, there is little to nothing that the West can or will do with regard to Syria. Unlike Libya, there are no signs that the Army is joining the protesters, so the chances of a Libya-like civil war seem dim. Additionally, Syria has a much stronger army, and many more friends than Libya does, specifically Iran and Russia. And, finally, Syria has limited oil supplies. So, Syrians, you’re on your own.