Syrian activists cancel anti-regime protest to negotiate over Suweidah detainees

Syrian activists cancel anti-regime protest to negotiate over Suweidah detainees
Syrian regime authorities hope to turn the tide of protests against Assad's rule, redirecting anger towards incoming US sanctions.
3 min read
16 June, 2020
Anti-regime protests erupted in Suweidah more than a week ago [Getty]
Syrian activists have cancelled a new demonstration against the regime in Suweidah province, in a bid to see detained protesters freed.

Tuesday's planned protest would have been the ninth anti-regime gathering in a row since unrest first erupted in the southern city earlier this month amid an intensifying economic crash.

Regime authorities hope to halt the protests or see demonstrators' anger directed towards upcoming US sanctions, as part of negotiations with community leaders, local sources said.

At least four people were detained on Monday in the first regime crackdown since demonstrations began, according to Suwayda 24, an activist collective covering events in the southern province.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least ten people were arrested for taking part in the demonstrations - the biggest to erupt in regime-controlled areas for several years.

The rare protests come against the backdrop of a spiralling currency crash and sharp increases in the cost of essential goods. As well as demonstrating against rapidly deteriorating living conditions, many are calling for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, who has for the past nine years led a brutal crackdown against dissent. 

Local activists cancelled a planned demonstration on Tuesday at the request of leading community figures who have set out to meet with security officials in a bid to see the detainees freed, local sources told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site.

Security officials demanded the anti-regime protest be cancelled and that demonstrators not raise the Syrian revolutionary flag in exchange for the release of the detainees, the sources said.

Syrian authorities hope to quell the protests and ensure they are seen as reflecting the economic crisis rather than disgruntlement with the Assad regime, the sources added. Around 80 percent of Syrian civilians live below the poverty line.

Officials want demonstrators to aim their anger at sanctions on Syria rather than the regime itself, the sources explained. 

New US sanctions against any entity or country that does business with the Syrian regime are due to take effect on Wednesday this week and are expected to do further damage to Syria's already teetering economy.

The national currency, the Syrian pound, has tumbled in recent weeks, reaching a record low to the dollar. The pound, which traded at 47 pounds to the dollar before the 2011 uprising, plunged to over 3,000 to the dollar last week before it made some gains in later days.

Suweidah is controlled by a patchwork of local militias, some with a rocky relationship with the regime, and government security forces.

The southern city has been prone to instability and crime during the war, despite being less affected by direct fighting.

The Islamic State group carried out a series of massacres in the province in 2018, leaving around 200 people dead. Al-Nusra Front militants also carried out a massacre in the province in 2015.

Locals have blamed the regime for not preventing the massacres and activists also suggested the regime could be behind general lawlessness, as a way of regaining direct control over Suweidah.

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