The Syrian state under Bashar al-Assad used tank fire and heavy machine guns on Sunday 31 July as the army overran barricades erected by the citizens of Hama. 500,000 had marched in Hama on Friday 29 demanding “the regime must go!”
Shooting wildly, soldiers attacked mainly peaceful demonstrators who — amazingly, bravely — ran into the firing from the ramshackle barriers, demanding the tanks stop. The Syrian National Organisation for Human Rights estimates 142 people died on Sunday in Hama and three other Syrian towns.
It seems the regime wants to break the protests before the start of the month of Ramadan on 1 August. They fear that Syrians will use daily attendance at Mosques during Ramadan to step-up protests.
The demonstrations have been growing; on each Friday during July one million have marched.
Hama is a conservative Sunni town of 800,000 in the west of Syria. It was the site of a notorious massacre in February 1982 when Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, put down an Islamist rising, killing 20,000 people.
According to the campaigning organisation Avaaz, the regime has now butchered 1634 people during the four and a half months of the pro-democracy uprising. Avaaz claims a further 2918 people have disappeared. Thousands have been arrested and many tortured.
The regime says “armed gangs”, who have been “vandalising public and private property”, are responsible for the violence. In fact the violence is being orchestrated by the military and secret police, flanked by pro-regime, sectarian gangs called Shabiha (Ghosts). The press attaché at the US embassy in Damascus described the government’s version of events as, “completely delusional. They are making up fanciful stories that no one believes.”
Without any sense of irony — given their own poisonous interventions in the affairs of Lebanon, Palestine and Israel — the Syrian state has complained about foreign interference in its internal affairs.
Although there have been no major splits in the government forces there have been regular, smaller-scale defections as troops refuse to fire, or switch sides. To overthrow the regime a significant rebellion in state forces must take place.
Although Western governments have condemned the crackdown in Syria, and imposed sanctions, there have been few protests from Arab states.
Scores of Syrians protested outside the Arab League office in central Cairo last week demanding the pan-Arab organisation oppose the state’s violence.
Slogans included: “We condemn Arab silence at what is taking place in Syria.”