03/23/2011, 00.00
SYRIA
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Fifth day of protests in Deraa as Syrian police kills again

Official sources blame “armed gangs” for an ambulance attack; demonstrators blame security forces, saying they carried out a sudden attack, opening fire on people gathered in front of a mosque. The opposition’s lack of leadership is a problem.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – On the fifth day of clashes in Deraa, 100 kilometres south of Damascus, four people are dead, including a police officer, according to official sources; five demonstrators, human rights activists say. Yesterday was relatively calm, the latter said, but after hundreds of protesters gathered again in front of the Omari Mosque, the focus of anti-government protest in recent weeks, with many getting ready to stay overnight in tents, security forces turned off streetlights, jammed phones, released tear gas and fired live ammunition on people. Ali Ghassab al-Mahamid, a doctor who had gone to the mosque to help victims, was killed.

According to the official version, reported by SANA, “An armed gang early Wednesday attacked a medical team in an ambulance while passing near al-Omari Mosque. A doctor, a paramedic and a driver were martyred in the attack, while the security forces in the vicinity of the site confronted the attackers and hit and arrested some of them. A member of the security forces was also martyred in the attack. The source added that the security forces will continue pursuing the armed gangs which terrify civilians, and execute killings,” after having “stored weapons and ammunitions inside al-Omari Mosque”

Since 15 March, Syria, including Damascus, has seen a number of small-scale protests. The country’s all-powerful security services have used an iron fist to disperse protesters. Many have been arrested. In the south, especially in Deraa, the protest has been more significant, and the response of the authorities more violent, with many deaths and even more wounded.

In light of what has happened, the fact that protests continue is surprising in a country that has been ruled for the past 48 years by a regime that has used special laws, courts and security forces to enforce its will. At the same time, events raise questions about demonstrators’ chance of forcing the regime to open up, since no one has called on President Assad to step down. In fact, not only do protesters lack a leadership, but also their motives and goals vary from place to place.

Yaser Tabbara, a Syrian American civil rights lawyer and activist, told Al Jazeera, “No one will be able to tell with any degree of certainty what will happen in the next few days or weeks in Syria”, whether protests will continue and spread or not, or if the regime will “make an example of Dara'a (Deraa) and show the populace the price one pays for dissent”. This said, “a culture of dissent has nonetheless commenced,” he said. “The fear barrier has been broken irreversibly.” (PD)

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