Syrian forces killed at least 70 protesters on Friday, activists said, in one of the bloodiest days since the start of an 11-week revolt against the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Friday in defiance of security forces determined to crush the uprising, and some activists said the death toll could hit 100.
Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 60 people were killed in Hama, where Assad’s father Hafez crushed an armed revolt 29 years ago by killing up to 30,000 people and razing parts of the city.
A political activist in Hama said tens of thousands of people were attending the funerals of dead protesters on Saturday, and that more protests were planned later in the day.
“Anger is very high in the city, people will never be silent or scared. The whole city is shut today and people are calling for a three day strike,” the activist, who gave his name as Omar, told Reuters by phone from the city.
Zénobie, a journalist in Damascus, writes:
“From now on, no more fear!” (Ma fi khawf baad al-yawm!) chanted the people of Deraa, in southern Syria, on 18 May. State repression intensified, but the protestors rejected the culture of fear, and in many towns declared they were ready to die: “Martyrs are going to heaven in their millions”; “There is only one God, and God loves martyrs”; “Resist Banias, freedom is worth giving your life for” (Banias is the name of a port). Martyrdom was a theme in every region, expressed in a slogan currently popular in the Middle East: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, oh martyr.” To express solidarity with a town where many people have died, they chant another version: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, oh Deraa” (Bi-ruh bi-damm, nafdîk ya shahîd).
Every protest since March has called for freedom by twisting a slogan of the regime; so “God, Syria, Bashar – that’s all!” has become “God, Syria, freedom – that’s all!” Syria was under a state of emergency from 1963 until this April, so freedom is associated with democracy: “We demand freedom and democratic elections.” This transcends sectarian divisions: “Freedom, freedom, Muslims and Christians!”; “We are the partisans of freedom and peace”.
The latest style, which is high-flown, is meant to mark the dignity of the individual citizen. And you can hear the growing rumble of anger in: “Don’t insult the Syrian people” (Al-shaab al-suri ma byandhal).
Matyrdom cleanses humiliation and restores an individual as a person and a believer (virtues traditionally reserved for nationalist heroes and saints): “Better to die than be debased” (Al-mawt wa lâ-l-madhalleh). At the beginning of the intifada it was common to hear opposition supporters, at gatherings of friends or family, greet someone from Deraa or its region with: “You have raised our heads high” (Rafa’tu-l-na ra’sna).
Ordinary people have tried to respond to accusations of division, violence and conspiracy. They proclaim their support for pacifism and unity, and reject sectarianism: “One, one, the Syrian people are one!”; “In peace, Muslims and Christians, in peace. No to sectarianism!”; “No to violence, no to vandalism!”