| 2 October 2023, Monday |

Thousands protest against the regime in southern Syria

The city of Sweida in southern Syria witnessed the largest anti-regime demonstration on Friday since the protests began nearly a month ago, with the participation of thousands, despite gunfire directed at protesters just two days prior, according to activists cited by AFP.

Peaceful protests began in mid-August in the Sweida governorate in response to the government’s decision to remove fuel subsidies. These protests have since evolved from expressing discontent with economic conditions into demands for the “downfall of the regime.”

One participant in the central demonstration in Sweida told AFP that between 3,500 and 4,000 people took part in the protest. Another activist provided a similar estimate, noting that the crowd gathered at Al-Karama Square this time was “larger than previous occasions.”

Amid the backdrop of music, protesters chanted, “There is no going back, Syria lived, and (President Bashar) al-Assad must fall,” while holding flags symbolizing the Druze community.

During the days of the protest, demonstrators closed offices belonging to the ruling Baath Party and removed pictures of the late President Hafez al-Assad.

Three protesters were wounded on Wednesday when armed individuals opened fire on them as they attempted to close a branch of the ruling Baath Party. This marked the first time shots were fired at protesters during recent demonstrations.

Ryan Ma’rouf from the local “Sweida 24” network told AFP that “this oppressive response has only increased people’s determination and commitment to peaceful protest.”

In a joint statement coordinated with one of the province’s sheikhs, Sheikh Hikmat al-Hijri, which was read by one of the protesters, they called for the establishment of a democratic national state and rejected the idea of the political party imposing its policies on the region’s residents.

The US Embassy in Syria expressed concern on Thursday over the “regime’s use of force in Sweida,” noting that the embassy does not provide any consular services.

The Sweida governorate has maintained its distinctiveness throughout the years of conflict, as Druze residents in Syria largely refrained from taking up arms against the regime or engaging in opposition activities, with only a few exceptions.

Tens of thousands of young men in the region have evaded mandatory military service, compensating by taking up arms solely to defend their territories, while Damascus has turned a blind eye to their actions.

For years, the Sweida governorate has intermittently witnessed protests against deteriorating living conditions.

After more than 12 years of enduring a protracted conflict, Syria is grappling with a suffocating economic crisis, exacerbated by a devastating earthquake in February and economic sanctions imposed by Western countries, resulting in the local currency losing over 99 percent of its value.

  • AFP