Syria protests regain momentum, draw fire At least 26 die during show of resilience ( New York Times)
BEIRUT — Thousands of Syrians took to the streets in virtually every region yesterday in what appeared to be a sign of new momentum and a potentially dangerous turn in the nine-week uprising. Activists said security forces killed at least 26 people and wounded hundreds.The resilience of the protests seemed to surprise even the activists themselves. The message delivered at many of the demonstrations, from Damascus, the capital, to the distant east, to towns that had been the target of ferocious repression, was that the killing of hundreds and detention of thousands would not stifle opposition to four decades of authoritarian rule.
“No dialogue with tanks and soldiers,’’ went one slogan.
There were ominous signs, too, of communal strife and outbreaks of violence that are testing a government that has built its legitimacy on the promise of stability. The unrest has exacerbated sectarian tensions in a country with a Sunni Muslim majority and a mosaic of ethnic and religious minorities: Christians, Kurds, and Alawites and other heterodox Muslim sects.
Some of the worst unrest has erupted along the Sunni-Alawite fault lines in the cities of Baniyas, Latakia, and Homs, and there are reports, though unconfirmed, of assassinations of security personnel and sectarian bloodletting.
To minorities, the middle class, and the business elite, the government has warned that it is “us or chaos.’’ But, analyst based in Damascus argued, repression may be intensifying instability.
“If you can’t restore stability, then it becomes ‘us and chaos,’ ’’ said the analyst, who asked not to be identified given the danger of the situation.
This week the Obama administration ratcheted up pressure on President Bashar Assad, whom US officials had described as recently as March as a reformer. The administration imposed sanctions on him and six other senior officials, and European officials have warned that they may impose more next week. In Obama’s Middle East policy address Thursday, he used some of his harshest language yet about the crackdown, saying that Assad had a choice.
“He can lead that transition, or get out of the way,’’ Obama said.