Article about the highway blockades by the women of the village of Bayda in response to the violent repression of the Syrian government.
BEIRUT — The women and children blocking a roadway outside the north Syrian coastal village of Bayda shook olive branches as symbols of peaceful protest and demanded the release of their sons, brothers and husbands.
“We want the young men of Bayda!” they shouted in videos posted on the Internet.
The wary security forces standing nearby dispatched agents to threaten them with violence, witnesses said.
The standoff Wednesday between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and hundreds of demonstrators outside Bayda and the nearby city of Banias followed days of antigovernment protests that led to at least seven deaths and hundreds of arrests.
But in perhaps a worrying sign for Assad, instead of cowing the residents into submission, the government’s response appeared to have emboldened them.
“The forces that attacked us desecrated homes and places of worship and stole gold . . . and after that they arrested hundreds of men and women,” said a university student who was among the hundreds attending the protest near Bayda. “We will stay here until the last detainee is released.”Syrian security forces, often using plainclothes agents to infiltrate and intimidate public gatherings, have reacted violently to antigovernment protests inspired by pro-democracy movements across the Arab world. The protests have a nation long used to stability on edge, with Syrians anticipating daily violent confrontations. Unprecedented swarms of armed security forces have been deployed in public squares and near government buildings.
Syrian authorities have also been trying to tarnish the protest movement as a foreign plot. State television on Wednesday aired the purported confession of the leader of what it called a “terrorist cell” tasked by unspecified foreign powers to blow up police stations, instigate demonstrations and shoot protesters while making it appear the violence came from government forces.
Syrian officials say nine soldiers have been killed and dozens of security officers injured in the violence nationwide.
Residents of Bayda said the government’s operatives in recent days shot protesters and refused to allow others to attend to the wounded, then made mass arrests.
“I can’t describe to you the brutality _ it’s unprecedented,” one Bayda resident said in a phone interview. “We were chanting, ‘God, Syria and Freedom,’ and they opened fire. Israel doesn’t even do this in Palestine. We were completely peaceful. The regime is corrupt. We are asking for freedom, reform and the fall of the regime.”
The Syrian Interior Ministry, in a statement published by the official news agency, denied accusations that it barred treatment of injured people.
Security forces in Bayda threatened to deploy the notorious Fourth Division of the Syrian Army, under the control of Maher Assad, the president’s brother, witnesses said, but by nightfall the standoff continued.
Protests also erupted Wednesday on university campuses in the Syrian capital Damascus and the second-largest city of Aleppo, suggesting the anti-government movement may be spreading from the rural poor to the big cities, witnesses and activists said. That could prove a vital tipping point for urban and upper-middle-class Syrians, who have so far been reluctant to take part in a struggle with an unclear outcome.
The demonstrations Wednesday came after a violent episode Sunday, when witnesses said one student was killed after security forces used force to disperse a rally in front of the science department of Damascus University.
April 13, 2011 Los Angeles Times/