Protests continue in Suweida despite Syrian regime forces firing for the first time

Protests continue in Suweida despite Syrian regime forces firing for the first time
On Wednesday, 14 September, Security forces shot at protesters for the first time since Suweida's protests started in early August.
4 min read
14 September, 2023
Protesters have called for the downfall of the Assad regime, the release of all political prisoners and the safe return of displaced Syrians. [Getty]

Syrian regime forces shot and injured at least three protesters in Suweida on Wednesday, 14 September, marking the first time the regime has employed violence against the area since protests started in the southern province in early August.

Demonstrators have occupied the main square of Suweida city, al-Karama Square, for over four weeks, calling for the downfall of the Syrian regime and an improvement in economic conditions.

The Syrian regime has generally ignored the protests in the Druze-majority province while violently suppressing them in other areas, such as the neighbouring province of Daraa.

On Wednesday, protesters headed towards the ruling Baath party headquarters in Suweida when armed men stationed on the roof began to shoot at them, resulting in light injuries.

Videos posted by local outlet Suweida 24 showed men, one in military fatigues, on the roof of the building pointing rifles at demonstrators.

"[After the shooting] there was anger in the street, but we tried to calm it. Protesters gathered and agreed to continue their protests in a peaceful manner," Ma'an al-Khadaj, an activist in Suweida, told The New Arab.

Live Story

Khadaj further explained that the shooting represented an attempt by the regime escalate what have so far been peaceful protests to justify the further use of violence.

Typically, the regime has not sought an all-out violent confrontation with Suweida, as it has styled itself as the protector of religious minorities in Syria.

Instead, protesters accuse it of funding militias which terrorise the local population with random acts of violence and kidnappings.

"The regime is currently working to divide us and spread discord between us, through loyalty to the sheikhs on one hand and through his shabiha and the other. But the street understands its games and will adhere to peacefulness until the end," Lana Aswad*, a human rights activist in Suweida, told TNA.

Aswad said the use of violence would not deter her or other protesters from continuing their demonstrations.

"Since we came out and demanded the overthrow of the regime, we have forgotten fear and put it behind us. We will never back down," Aswad said.

Live Story

'Go, go Assad!'

Initially spurred to the street out of anger against Syria's deteriorating economic conditions, protesters in Suweida have adopted slogans from Syria's 2011 uprising.

In particular, protesters have called for a political transition of the current regime in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, as well as the release of the 136,000 detainees in regime prisons and the safe return of displaced Syrians.

They have appealed directly to the UN and the international community to intervene and protect protesters.

While institutions like the EU parliament have issued statements of solidarity with Suweida, no country has moved past rhetorical support.

The protests occur as states within the Middle East rush to normalise relations with the Assad regime, with countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan providing a framework for its return to the diplomatic fold.

None of these states have commented on the ongoing protests in Syria's south.

What happens next?

Demonstrators in Suweida say their goal is to help spread protests across regime-held Syria to spur a political change in the country's leadership.

However, as of yet, sustained protests have not taken root, besides sporadic demonstrations in Daraa.

Activism in other regime-held areas have mainly manifested in the distribution of political leaflets and anonymous dissent online.

Security forces have fired on protesters in Daraa and arrested activists for Facebook posts in areas typically thought of as friendly to the regime, such as the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartous.

Inside Suweida itself, protests continue to intensify and deepen, prompting worry among some activists that the regime will increasingly resort to violence.

"It appears as if the regime is exhausted, it doesn't have any other option besides violence. In the end, the Syrian regime is known for violence … the regime will not have any real hesitation to kill people," Rayan Maarouf, the editor of Suweida 24, told TNA.

Still despite the threat of violence, protesters returned to al-Karama square on Thursday, chanting protests anew.

"We expect a lot from this regime, but freedom and dignity and worth it. We are still at the beginning, and what we have offered thus far is little compared to the blood shed by [other] Syrians," Aswad said.