Dominique Soguel, AFP
Last updated: 31 August, 2012

Fear of bombing keeps anti-Assad protesters indoors

Residents of a town near the Turkish border kept up protests against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, despite fears of helicopter gunships or fighter jets swooping from the skies.

Dozens of people overcame their nerves to take to the streets in Marea, a town in Aleppo province which has been free of government control since April. Protest has become as much a ritual here as weekly Muslim prayers.

“Leave, leave Bashar,” men and boys chanted in the town centre.

“Take the party of Satan with you,” they shouted in reference to Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah (Party of God, in Arabic), which like Iran has proved an unwavering ally of Assad’s regime.

Activists had called on ordinary people across the country to vent their anger on Friday over the alleged massacre of more than 300 people last week when the army overran the town of Daraya outside Damascus.

Videos posted on YouTube claimed thousands had taken to the streets in anti-regime demonstrations across the country, rallying to the slogan: “Daraya, a flame that will never die.”

The claim was impossible to verify, because of restrictions on reporters.

What was clear was that the turnout was low in Marea, despite the fact that there has been no army presence on its streets since April 10, when residents say soldiers set homes and shops ablaze in reprisal for locals sympathising with the rebellion.

Between their chanting, the few dozen gathered here scanned the skies for warplanes which have periodically pummelled this town of 30,000.

“We are coming out in smaller numbers than before, because we are afraid of bombing,” explained one resident, begging the world to supply his people with anti-aircraft weapons.

“The people are very afraid of bombing and people are fleeing in large numbers to Turkey,” a Free Syrian Army fighter said as he looked on from his motorbike.

One protester, Abu Hassan, was close to despair: “We left our homes and closed our shops in Aleppo … Now where do we go from here?”

In Damascus, security forces blocked roads leading into the city and set up roadblocks across the capital, an AFP correspondent said.

In Daraya itself, the mood was sombre days on from what the opposition described as a “massacre,” an activist told AFP via Skype.

“There is almost no one on the streets,” said the activist identifying himself as Abu Kinan. “Of course there are no protests here today. Our wounds are still all too fresh.”