The Syrian regime is in deep trouble. The Friday protests against the regime are much larger with each passing week, forcing President Assad to seek help from Iran to crush the uprising. The use of violence has only enlarged the crowds, and now, according to the Reform Party of Syria, the Syrian army has surrounded the third largest city of Homs and has told its Sufi sheikhs that it faces destruction if the protests there do not end.
At least 17 protesters were killed in Homs on Sunday alone, provoking thousands of demonstrators to chant in support of regime change. “From alleyway to alleyway, from house to house, we want to overthrow you, Bashar,” marchers were heard saying. Residents also destroyed a statue of Hafez al-Assad, the ruling president’s late father and predecessor. On Tuesday, video hit the Internet of heavy fire in Homs, and a three-day strike has begun in which all shops and businesses have closed. The regime is now blocking roads to the main square with fire trucks, snipers are seen on roofs, and the city is being described as looking like “a war zone.”
Homs is now surrounded, and the Fourth Armored Division, led by Maher Assad, Bashar’s brother, appears ready to enter the suburb of Talbisseh at any moment. At least four tanks have been seen nearby. An eyewitness told Al-Jazeera that the security forces have beards, indicating they may belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah. This is very possible, as the IRGC base that is now overseeing the crackdown is nearby.
The city of Banias has also been surrounded, and the Syrian regime is justifying action against these two cities. “[The events] are an armed insurrection by armed groups belonging to Salafist organizations, especially in the cities of Homs and Banias,” a statement from the Syrian government said. The regime is laying the groundwork for massive bloodshed by labeling the protesters as Islamist terrorists.
Another objective of these measures is to send a message to the West and the population that Islamists would benefit from any weakening of the regime. The regime has closed its first casino, ended the ban on teachers wearing face veils, and a close friend of Assad named Ayman Abdel Nour has been tasked with creating a “moderate Islamist party loyal to the regime” and setting up an Islamist satellite station. This also serves to undermine secular opposition by emphasizing the threat of an Islamist takeover.
The regime has also “lifted” the state of emergency as the vast majority of Syrians wanted. However, the killings continue unabated, and on the same day, legislation was passed to “regulate the right of peaceful protest” that will require prior approval from the Interior Ministry for demonstrations. A State Department spokesman said, “This new legislation may prove as restrictive as the emergency law it replaced.” More accurately, this new law sets the stage for more bloodshed.
The massive protests on Friday that continue today present a monumental challenge for Assad. Leading up to the protests, hundreds were arrested. In Banias alone, 200 were arrested. On that day, 37 were killed at the very least, with 27 deaths in Daraa, 4 in Banias, 3 in Homs, 3 in Harasta, and 1 in Douma. Tens of thousands protested in the capital of Damascus and were violently attacked to prevent marchers from uniting in Abbasside Square. Posters of Assad were ripped and trampled, and in the area of Jawber, protesters caused a bus of security personnel to retreat. On Sunday, 17 were killed in Homs and five were killed in Latakia. Videos surface on a daily basis showing the beatings and killings performed by the security services, including the shooting of a medic and the head wound of a child from the bullet of a sniper.