Syria

Syria: 20 miles from Damascus, an oasis of fragile freedom

Syria: 20 miles from Damascus, an oasis of fragile freedom
Zabadani has effectively been liberated for a month, thanks to the Free Syrian Army. But it's a liberty under constant siege

Ian Black in Zabadani
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 17 January 2012 17.03 GMT
Article history

A member of the Free Syrian Army stands guard over Zabadani, which has become a hub of revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's rule. Photograph: Reuters TV/Reuters
In the centre of Zabadani, in the little square by the mosque, stands what at first glance looks like a Christmas tree – a spindly plastic evergreen draped in blue fairy lights. But instead of tinsel and baubles it is decorated with photographs and pieces of cardboard bearing the names of the martyrs of the Syrian uprising. Locals call it the Freedom Tree.

It is here, after prayers, that hundreds of residents gather every evening to march through the town, waving placards and chanting slogans against President Bashar al-Assad. They do so under the watchful eyes of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), their only defence against the might of an angry government that is fighting for its survival.

"We don't want Bashar or [his brother] Maher or their gang," they shouted in unison on a cold and starry night last week, clapping their hands above their heads – partly, some laughed, just to keep warm. "The people want the fall of the regime."

Parents and children gathered on the square to pose for the cameras they see as a lifeline to the outside world. Women stood to one side at first but joined the march from the rear. "The Free Army is protecting us against Assad's gangs," read a poster one little boy was holding up. "YouTube is the most important weapon of our revolution," said Amjad al-Khousi, a student. "People believe that being photographed will protect them."

Syria: beyond the wall of fear, a state in slow-motion collapse

Syria: beyond the wall of fear, a state in slow-motion collapse
Despite the superficial calm in Damascus, everyone knows change is coming. The only question is, how much will it cost?

Ian Black in Damascus
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 January 2012 17.30

Members of the Free Syrian Army demonstrate against Bashar al-Assad near Idlib. Photograph: Handout/Reuters
Sipping tea in a smoky Damascus cafe, Adnan and his wife, Rima, look ordinary enough: an unobtrusive, thirtysomething couple winding down at the end of the working day in one of the tensest cities in the world.

But like much else in the Syrian capital, they are not what they first seem: normally, he is a software engineer and she a lawyer; now, they are underground activists helping organise the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

It is dangerous work. Over the past 10 months, thousands of Syrians have been killed – perhaps twice the 5,000 figure given by the UN – as Assad has pursued a ruthless crackdown that shows no sign of ending. But his opponents are equally determined to carry on.

Adnan and Rima are unable to work or contact their families. They have false identities. Adnan changes his appearance regularly. He has just shaved off his beard. It clearly works: a friend at a nearby table fails to recognise him.

Most of their friends are on the run from the mukhabarat secret police. "It used to be scary but we've got used to it," said Adnan. The revolution destroyed the wall of fear. At school, we were taught to love the president – Hafez – first. And it didn't get any better when Bashar took over. Now, everything has changed. Assad's picture is defaced everywhere and we are certain that at some point we will topple the regime."

Syrian army kills 23 in shelled town

The northern province of Idlib has witnessed intense clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors in the past weeks. Yesterday, security forces killed up to 70 army defectors as they were deserting their military posts in Idlib near the Turkish border, activists said.

Army defectors 'kill Syrian troops'

Several dead in Syrian clashes 11/12/11

 

Syrian troops battled army defectors today in clashes that left several military vehicles in flames. The fighting and other violence around the nation killed at least 5 people, activists said.

For the first time protest against President Bashar Assad's regime spilled across the border into Jordan, where about a dozen Syrians attacked their embassy in the capital, Amman, wounding at least 2 diplomats and 4 other consulate employees.

The 9 month-old uprising against Syria's authoritarian President Bashar Assad has grown increasingly violent in recent months as once-peaceful protesters take up arms and rebel soldiers joining the uprising fight back against the army. The UN says more than 4,000 people have been killed since March.

Opposition activists called for a general strike starting today to add to the pressure on the government to stop its bloody crackdown. Assad has refused to buckle under Arab and international pressure to step down and has shown no signs of easing his crackdown, which has included assaults by the military on unarmed protesters.

Now, fighting between loyalist forces and defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army threatens to push the confrontation into civil war.

Syrian forces kill 40 as Arab League denounces attack - Guardian - 291011

Syrian forces kill 40 as Arab League denounces attack

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