Suweida activists cancel planned anti-government protest over fears of Syria regime 'massacre'
Only dozens of activists responded to protest calls demanding the overthrow of the Assad regime, fearing newly deployed regime forces would open fire on protesters, The New Arab's Arabic language service Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.
Regime troops had already shot at protesters in the city earlier this month, leaving at least two dead and 18 injured.
Some civilians in the semi-autonomous province have held anti-regime demonstrations calling for an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
"Snipers belonging to the security service were deployed since dawn on Sunday around Al-Karama square and stationed on the roofs of the surrounding buildings," activist Sheikh Suleiman Abdel-Baqi, who initially called for the protests in the square, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
"Our decision not to attend the protest stems from our concern for people's lives… the regime wanted to commit a massacre that would completely end the protests."
Other activists said that if Sunday's anti-government demonstrations had gathered more people, the consequences could have been fatal for the protesters.
"The regime planned to commit a massacre in the event of a large demonstration against it on Sunday and planned to accuse protesters of carrying it [the massacre] out," participating activist Maher Masoud told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
Activists have called for protests due to a worsening economic crisis and a decline in basic services provided in the regime-controlled area.
Protesters have also called on all Syrians in the province, mostly Druze, to carry out a general strike, amidst an intensified security presence in the region.
Members of the Suweida Governorate Council have called for patience and asked protests to remain peaceful, saying they would resign if the demands on fuel and other issues go unfulfilled, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.
While some activists believe the council members to be genuine and to have resonated with the needs of the people, others have deemed their move an attempt to "anaesthetise" the protest movement.
As a Druze-majority city, Suweida has mostly been able to avoid the horrors of Syria's ongoing war - beginning in 2011 after the peaceful protests were brutally suppressed - which has seen over 500,000 people killed, largely at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad's forces and ally Russia.
However, it has seen periodic unrest, including anti-corruption protests, in recent years.