Al Jazeera reports:
Troops commanded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother have surrounded the Damascus suburb of Harasta, residents say.
The move appears to be part of an ongoing crackdown on urban centres that have experienced protests on a daily basis.
“Hundreds of Fourth Division troops have sealed off all of Harasta’s dozen entrances,” a resident of the large suburb, who works as an engineer and managed to leave Harasta, told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
“They are wearing combat fatigues, helmets, ammunition belts and carrying assault rifles. Water, electricity and phones have been cut.”
Anthony Shadid reports from Hama:
In this city that bears the scars of one of the modern Middle East’s bloodiest episodes, the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad has begun to help Syrians imagine life after dictatorship as it forges new leaders, organizes its own defense and reckons with a grim past in an uncertain experiment that showcases the forces that could end Mr. Assad’s rule.
Dozens of barricades of trash bins, street lamps, bulldozers and sandbags, defended in various states of vigilance, block the feared return of the security forces that surprisingly withdrew last month. Protests begin past midnight, drawing raucous crowds of youths celebrating the simple fact that they can protest. At dusk, distant cries echo off cinder blocks and stone that render a tableau here of jubilation, fear and memory of a crackdown a generation ago whose toll — 10,000, 20,000, more — remains a defiant guess.
“Hama is free,” the protesters chant, “and it will remain free.”
Freedom is a word heard often these days in this city, Syria’s fourth largest, though that freedom could yet prove elusive. Hama rebelled last month, and the government withdrew the soldiers and security forces seemingly to forestall even more bloodshed, ceding space along the Orontes River that is really neither liberated nor subjugated.
In the uncertain interregnum, punctuated by worry that the security forces might return and fear of informers left behind, Hama has emerged in the four-month revolt against Mr. Assad as a turbulent model of what a city in Syria might resemble once four decades of dictatorship end. In skittish streets, there are at least nascent notions of self-determination, as residents seek to speak for themselves and defend a city that they declare theirs.
The sole poster of Mr. Assad in the city hangs from the undamaged headquarters of the ruling Baath Party. Gaggles of residents gather on the curb to debate politics, sing protest songs and retell the traumas of the crackdown in 1982, when the government stormed Hama to end an Islamist uprising. For the first time in memory, clerics and the educated elite in Hama are negotiating with the governor over how to administer the city, in a country long accustomed to a monologue delivered by the ruler to the ruled.
Meanwhile, “Nour Ali” reports from Damascus:
Brute force has been the main weapon of the Syrian regime as it has sought to crush growing protests, killing at least 1,500 people and torturing hundreds more. But Syrians have also been besieged by relentless propaganda.
In a week that has seen at least 40 die and escalating violence in Homs, the country’s third largest city, state radio and private stations owned by regime cronies have been blaring out songs exalting Bashar al-Assad as “Abu Hafez”, suggesting his son Hafez could succeed him, or anointing him president for “all eternity”.
Baseball caps, T-shirts and flags adorned with the president’s face are sold around Damascus. Billboards show him surrounded by pink hearts – in stark contrast to the sterner, more militarised pictures of his father, Hafez, the former president.
Television programmes show residents shopping and driving, portraying calm and order while regime supporters chant that they would shed blood for their leader.