Tue, April 05, 2011 | DebkaFile
The Syrian Revolution 2011: First Protest Shooting in Damascus
A DEBKAfile Exclusive Report:
The Syrian uprising took a new turn Tuesday, April 5, when armed protesters opened fire for the first time on security forces from a well-laid ambush in a Damascus suburb. Two policemen were killed according to first reports. The fact that armed elements have taken over and are willing to use violence against Assad regime — and in the capital yet — marks a new and dangerous stage in the two-week long protest.
Syria’s banned opposition groups and Muslim Brotherhood, under the combined new banner of “The Syrian Revolution 2011,” earlier announed a fresh round of demonstrations against President Bashar Assad starting Tuesday, April 5, and lasting until next week, debkafile’s Middle East sources report.
Both sides of the conflict realize that the Assad regime is not yet at the tipping-point for its survival after street protest rallies and bloody crackdowns centering on Daraa in the south and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, in which 110 demonstrators died. However, a mass, nationwide uprising could badly shake its stability because it would seriously overtax Assad’s loyal military and security troops.
The opposition and the regime are meanwhile playing cat and mouse to see which holds the balance. The protest movement has already made an important gain: Even if Assad weathers the storm, his regime will never recover its old stability, arrogance and confidence. After 11 years in power, the Syrian president’s authority will be on the wane.
To knock it over completely, the Sunnis, who are 76 percent of the Syria’s population of 26 million, must join the protest movement en masse. This they have so far avoided doing for fear of the bullets which Assad’s loyalist forces do not hesitate to shoot.
Because it is hard to get ordinary Sunni Muslims out on the streets, the heads of Syrian Revolution 2011 have instigated a campaign of passive resistance. This week, for example, opposition leaders told the population to stop paying their electricity bills, an act of protest that has caught on in Syria’s big cities. The Assad regime is therefore confronted both by the “Days of Rage” and quiet civil resistance.
Furthermore, the important port-town of Latakia has split down the middle between two opposing camps — the 300,000 members of the ruling Allawite sect fear to venture into the districts populated by the town’s 400,000 Sunnis — and vice versa. Army control is reduced to keeping open the road linking the Syria’s main import and export port facilities to the highway out of the city.
In the next 48 hours, the opposition is hoping to whip up mass demonstrations in Aleppo and Damascus, the capital. Aleppo, a city of 2.8 million inhabitants is the political and economic hub of the Syrian Sunni community. Therefore, major outbreaks there would produce a big crack in Assad’s authority.
The Syrian ruler has tried to pre-empt the Aleppo demonstration by pouring substantial armed strength into the city, cutting its Internet links and arresting thousands of people suspected of opposition ties.
But he faces a huge problem. He can’t trust the Sunni rank and file to obey orders to suppress a large-scale Sunni insurrection in Aleppo — only the Allawite units which owe loyalty to the president and the Assad clan. He must therefore rely on the support of the 4th Army Division and the security and intelligence services and they may be too thin on the ground to shoulder the task. He dare not try and loose Sunni troops on the protesters of Aleppo for fear they join the protesters.