Suweida: Three wounded as gunshots fired in anti-government protest in Syrian city
Three people were wounded on Wednesday when bullets were fired at anti-government protesters in the southern Syrian city of Suweida, activists and local journalists said, in the first reported use of violence in weeks-long demonstrations there.
Activists, who have been taking to the streets to call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down over worsening living conditions, accused members of the ruling Ba'ath party of firing. Reuters could not independently confirm this.
In a video posted online by the Sweida24 activist collective, men could be seen running away from the entrance of a building as around two dozen gunshots were heard.
مراسلنا: المشاهد الأولى لإطلاق النار من حرس مبنى قيادة فرع حزب البعث في مدينة السويداء، لتفريق مجموعة من المحتجين كانوا يحاولون إعادة إغلاق المبنى.— السويداء 24 (@suwayda24) September 13, 2023
The caption identified the building as the local headquarters for the Ba'ath party and said protesters had been trying to close it down. Demonstrators temporarily forced its closure in late August.
Sweida24 said the three wounded people were being treated at hospitals.
Conflict erupted in Syria in 2011 when peaceful demonstrators rallied against Assad in the country's south. The uprising morphed into an all-out war following brutal suppression by the Assad regime.
Over half a million Syrians have been killed and millions more displaced, since then.
Assad recaptured most of the country with help from his allies Russia and Iran, who have helped prop up the regime throughout the war financially and with military aid.
Recently, the country has witnessed a worsening economic crisis, rising levels of poverty and and inflation, with the currency plunging to 15,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar.
Open criticism of the regime has become increasingly rare in Assad-held areas, with the regime's security apparatuses suppressing all dissent.
However, the regime's decision to lift fuel subsidies last month, prompted fresh protests concentrated in Suweida.
The spiritual head of Syria's Druze community, Sheikh Hikmat Hajri, on Wednesday blamed "corrupt" security forces for the incident, which he said would not deter protests.
"The main thing is restraint, and we won't give up on our peaceful demands. The street is with us. (We will stay) a day or two or a month or years," Hajri said.
Protests have taken place in Suweida against the Assad regime since 2011 but in the past, Druze community leaders have heeded calls by authorities to limit and defuse them.
However, community leaders have supported for the recent rallies and this has encouraged more people to join the protests, organisers and residents said.
(Reuters and The New Arab Staff)