Frustrated protesters fill streets in Damascus

The New York Times reports: Hundreds and hundreds of antigovernment protesters braved scattered gunfire from Syrian soldiers to march through a middle-class neighborhood in Damascus on Saturday, the biggest demonstration witnessed close to the heart of the capital since the country’s uprising started 11 months ago.

The neighborhood, Mezze, skirts the hill on which the sprawling white presidential palace sits, and as row upon row of demonstrators walked along, wrapped tightly in heavy coats amid a snowstorm, more than a few expressed the wish that President Bashar al-Assad could hear them.

“I hope President Assad opens the window of his office and sees how Damascenes are shouting against him and his regime,” said Usama, 22, a university student from the neighborhood, giving only his first name out of fear of retribution. “The regime thought we were asleep, but it doesn’t know that when we wake up his regime will be gone.”

The relative calm of Damascus, as well as Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, throughout the uprising has been cited repeatedly by the Assad government to buttress its argument that it enjoys wide support in Syria. Officials maintain that the demonstrations and unrest in rebellious cities like Homs, Hama and Dara’a, all sites of brutal government crackdowns, are the work of foreign infiltrators.

That argument will be much harder to sustain if mainstream, middle-class districts of the capital like Mezze begin rising up to demonstrate, as it did on Saturday. The march was prompted by the deaths of three men at a smaller protest a day earlier. Several marchers said it was one thing to deploy tanks in provincial cities to fight antigovernment protesters, but it would be impossible to say that foreign armed gangs had penetrated an area close to the presidential palace.

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