In southern Syria, protesters continued demonstrations calling for the removal of Syrian president and staunch Russian ally, Bashar al-Assad.
Over the past two weeks the protests and strikes, which began against steeply rising fuel prices, became bolder, large-scale anti-government demonstrations, The Guardian reported.
They center around the southern province of Suwayda, which is home to much of the country’s Druze minority.
The region had largely stayed out of anti-Assad protests in the past – like the ones in 2011 – and on the sidelines of the years of civil war that followed after Assad crushed those protests with deadly force.
The UN Human Rights Office estimates that over 306,000 civilians were killed between 2011 and 2021.
The Russian military played a key role in turning the tide of the civil war when it started its air campaign in Syria in 2015.
While Russia claimed it was directing strikes against “terrorists,” it helped Assad regain territory and stay in power by besieging opposition-held areas of Aleppo.
Many of the same generals and many of the same tactics Russia used in Syria, including “double tap” strikes on hospitals are now being used in Ukraine.
Today, the Syrian government has control of the biggest cities, but large parts of Syria are still held by rebels, jihadists, and the Kurdish-led SDF.
Now, despite their earlier silence, In the past two weeks, people in government-controlled Suwayda could be seen kicking members of Assad’s ruling Baath party out of their offices and spray-painting anti-government slogans on walls, AP News reported.
“The protests are different from any time before due to the participation of various groups of people – the poor, civilians, clerics, university students, and political opponents,” journalist Rayan Maarouf, editor-in-chief of As-Suwayda 24 monitoring group told The New Arab.
One video, posted by the activist media collective Suwayda24, showed protesters welding shut the doors of a branch of the Baath party.
Another video showed hundreds of people gathered in the city of Suwayda’s central square, waving Druze flags, burning banners of Assad’s government, and chanting “long live Syria, and down with Bashar al-Assad.”
The tipping point came two weeks ago when Assad scaled back the country’s fuel and gasoline subsidy program. This and spiraling inflation dealt a blow to millions of Syrians who were already living in poverty.
Syria’s president has so far not issued a deadly crackdown on the protesters as he had done in 2011.
Assad, who is an ally of both Iran and Russia, has held power in Syria since 2000.
Showing its support for Russia’s invasion, Syria officially ended diplomatic relations with Ukraine in July 2022.
In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad promised to send 40,000 Syrian fighters to help Russia with its invasion of Ukraine.
However, according to Ukrainska Pravda, citing the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, information started to circulate that Syrian fighters would be taking part in direct armed conflict with the Ukrainian army rather than simply performing policing functions after the invasion – and this reduced their “fighting spirit.”
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