How a brawl turned into “anti-Assad” protests on social media

header Jaramana2
8 min read
10 August, 2023

While the Syrian regime is unpopular in large parts of Syria due to its brutal repression of the uprising, supporters of all sides of the conflict have resorted, more or less intentionally, to disinformation and misinformation.

Multiple videos surfaced on social media on the night of Sunday 23 July, claiming to reveal anti-Assad regime protests in Jaramana, a Syrian town located in the outskirts of Damascus.

The footage showed groups of individuals attacking shops and cafes, sometimes on motorbikes, other times on foot. Other videos from the same night presented objects being set ablaze in public spaces. Some of the videos would include shots of gunfire or chants.

Rumours quickly started to circulate online over the cause of these clashes. Many claimed that they were demonstrations over the deteriorating living conditions in Syria.

Other claims were more brazen, stating that the demonstrations were against the Assad regime itself, and calling them “virtually unprecedented since 2011-12”.

While the crackdown has stifled large-scale protests in government areas over the last decade, these would not have been the first demonstrations against Syria’s economic collapse.

Tweets by Charles Lister (149.4k followers), director of Washington-based Middle East Institute’s Syria program, claiming the protests were unprecedented. The initial tweet received 253k views.
Tweet by Turkish MENA expert Mete Sohtaoglu (70.1k followers), claiming that the Jaramana "demonstrations" were "demanding the overthrow of Assad". The tweet received 18.9k views.

Based on interviews conducted with Jaramana residents, open-source verification of the footage, as well as exclusive clips obtained from the night, The New Arab (TNA) can confirm that these events were not anti-Assad protests.

While multiple sources admit that the economic crisis and the induced insecurity have created the conditions where such violence outbursts are more frequent, the root causes of the clashes were false rumours over the death of a young man from the town.

"Other claims were more brazen, stating that the demonstrations were against the Assad regime itself, and calling them 'virtually unprecedented since 2011-12'."

Jaramana is a town in the southeastern outskirts of Damascus, inhabited majoritarily by Druze and Christians. The neighbouring Jaramana Camp was established in 1948 for Palestinian refugees. With the onset of the Syrian uprising, more people moved to Jaramana, especially Palestinians from the Yarmouk camp and the Al-Hajr al-Aswad neighbourhood. All these groups benefited from the town’s relative stability, as Syrian government forces tend to refrain from military operations in Druze areas.

According to local sources, on Saturday 22 July, an altercation occurred between groups of Palestinian youth in the city. In the commotion, Osama al-Halabi, a resident of Jaramana, was shot by a stray bullet; his role in the altercation is not clear. According to  Syrian regional news website Suwayda24, he was taken to the Tishreen military hospital in Damascus.

The next day, Sunday 23 July, rumours of the death of al-Halabi spread online. As authorities seemed disinterested in apprehending the shooter, residents decided to take matters into their own hands: they set up checkpoints in Jaramana, intercepting any individuals who might be carrying weapons or drugs, and handing them over to the local police station.

In reality, al-Halabi was alive and well. But it was too late to stop the whirlwind of local anger. In response to the rumoured death of al-Halabi, many locals started calling for action.

"Based on interviews conducted with Jaramana residents, open-source verification of the footage, as well as exclusive clips obtained from the night, The New Arab (TNA) can confirm that these events were not anti-Assad protests."

Exclusive footage obtained by TNA, and recorded in the evening of Sunday 23 July, show Jaramana residents clamouring at the suggestion of needing to retaliate. Although Druze community leaders had asked for calm and restraint, locals felt wronged, as “blood had been spilled.”


The manifested dissatisfaction was never intended to be a political protest against the regime. Additional footage from the night showed residents marching through Jaramana, repeating popular Druze chants used to indicate the promise of punishment to aggressors. Sounds of gunshot can be heard alongside the cheers.

Other residents were more forceful. Some attacked the Rozana Cafe on the main avenue. It is mostly footage of this attack that would be held up online as evidence of anti-regime protests. In reality, the shop was targeted because of its supposed links with prostitution, drugs trade and petty crime.

Some local sources suspect that the cafe is owned by a former MP, which would have allowed it to remain open despite local disapproval.

TNA was able to confirm the location and name of the cafe, using pictures from its Facebook page, but it was not possible to confirm the identity of its owner. There is also no evidence to suggest that the cafe was targeted because of its alleged links with a former MP.

geolocation rozana cafe jaramana
The identified cafe matches the one presented in the video during the violence. [Facebook]

Other shops were targeted for seemingly unrelated reasons.

In another clip, young men, appearing out of nowhere from the darkness, attacked the facades of a shop, just as the owners of the restaurant next door tried to placate them by closing down their doors.

Video showing young men attacking the facade of a shop in Jaramana.

According to a local source, a few moments before the attack, the owner of the shop was filming the procession of angry locals, which is why he was reportedly targeted. Using material found on the Facebook page of the neighbouring restaurant, TNA can confirm that the shop shown in the video is also in Jaramana, located near President Square (Sahat al-Ra’is).

second geolocation Jaramana
The restaurant next to the targeted shop shown in the footage matches the one identified by TNA. The video was therefore shot in Jaramana. [Facebook]

A third video circulated online from the night of the events, however, is totally unrelated. This clip, showing items burning in the middle of a public square, was also used to suggest that the protests had political aims. Some of the slogans heard in the clip repeat: “Have mercy on us, you have slaughtered us.” Pro-opposition Orient News TV included this video in a YouTube post to illustrate the Jaramana events.

Footage of burning items in the middle of a public square, alleged to be in Jaramana.

In reality, this video was recorded in the Beach (Al-Shati) Camp in Gaza and was shared on social media at around the same time as the events in Jaramana were unfolding. According to a Facebook post by Fatah’s Media and Culture Commission, the protesters shown in the footage were actually demanding improvements of their living conditions in the camp.


فيديو متداول.. احتجاجات في مخيم الشاطئ غرب مدينة غزة للمطالبة بتحسين الأوضاع المعيشية. مزيد من التفاصيل عبر تليجرام

Posted by ‎مفوضية الإعلام والثقافة لحركة فتح‎ on Sunday, July 23, 2023
Footage taken at the Beach (Al-Shati) Camp in Gaza used to suggest events in Jaramana had political aims.

This is not the first time that media outlets share unrelated footage of protests and misleadingly associate it with Jaramana.

Media reports and local sources have also provided other explanations for this night of violence in the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

Orient News TV attributed the violence to members of Liwa’ al-Quds, a pro-regime Palestinian militia. It also reported that members of the pro-Assad National Defense Forces (NDF) militia from Jaramana were involved in fighting back. One local source told TNA that a militant from Syria’s main Druze paramilitary force, the Men of Dignity Movement, supposedly had a role in instigating violence.

The New Arab could not find any evidence of links between the Jaramana events and these armed factions.

Suwayda24 suggested that violence was in part racially motivated, as some of the targeted shops are allegedly owned by Iraqi and Palestinian residents. Accounts differ on whether these were isolated incidents or not. Sources told TNA that discontent is widespread over illicit activities generically associated with "outsiders" who moved recently to Jaramana. Others were reluctant to scapegoat certain communities and highlighted the Syrian regime's alleged connivance with these criminal networks.

The New Arab was unable to verify these allegations.

"A video circulated online is totally unrelated. It was recorded in the Beach (Al-Shati) Camp in Gaza and was shared on social media at around the same time as the events in Jaramana were unfolding."

The night of violence eventually subsided in Jaramana, as calls by community leaders for an end of the clashes finally brought the groups of young men to stop. On July 25, a photo emerged on social media, purportedly documenting a reconciliatory meeting held the day before between local representatives of the Palestinian and Druze communities.


#جرمانا | وفد من كبار الأخوة الفلـ.ــســ.ـطيـ.ــنين بضيافة مشايخ مدينة جرمانا يوم أمس . الله يديم المحبة ♥️

Posted by ‎اسواق جرمانا‎ on Tuesday, July 25, 2023
Facebook post documenting a reconciliatory meeting held July 24 between local representatives of Palestinian and Druze communities.

But by the time Jaramana went back to normal, misleading rumours about what happened in the town had already swirled on social media.

Gaza protests Jaramana
Still image from one of the videos circulated online, allegedly showing anti-Assad protests in Jaramana. TNA Investigative Unit was able to establish that the footage is from protests in Gaza. [AwdehTV/fair use]

For questions, comments and complaints, please email Andrea Glioti (head of TNA investigative unit) or Anas Ambri (TNA investigative researcher)

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