Marie Roudani, AFP
Last updated: 21 September, 2012

“We will demonstrate until Bashar falls”

Every Friday they take to the streets of Syria’s second city and commercial capital Aleppo, braving the threat of death to vent their fury against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Dozens of Syrians again protested after Friday prayers in the northern city, a battleground of fierce clashes between rebels and government troops, chanting that the president was an “enemy of God.”

“We will demonstrate until Bashar falls,” said Mohammed who comes out every week to demand the ouster of the man whose forces have been cracking down on a deadly uprising since March 2011.

This week some 80 men, mostly young, emerged from the Nur al-Shuhada mosque in Aleppo’s Shaar neighbourhood into its compound, carrying flags of the Syrian uprising and raising slogans against the Damascus regime.

The men marched in a procession under the watchful gaze of several rebels cradling Kalashnikov assault rifles.

Demonstrators clapped their hands in unison and repeated slogans against the regime that is now prey to a popular revolt which has militarised in the face of increasingly brutal repression.

Aleppo, the country’s main business centre, had for a while remained distanced from the protest movement that has gripped other parts of the country for more than 18 months.

But now the city has been engulfed in a brutal guerrilla war, particularly in its eastern and southern areas.

“We protested peacefully and the regime responded with bullets and bombs,” said Mohammed. “It forced us to pick up arms.”

On both sides of the street the facades of several buildings bear the scars of the intense fighting and bombing that has been unleashed on the city for several weeks now.

Most shops are closed, their metal shutters down, and apartments remain empty, with residents having fled to neighbouring villages in Aleppo province or north across the border and into the safe haven of Turkey.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that more than 29,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Syria.

“This morning I saw a three-year-old. His head was smashed into pieces,” said one protester, Hassan, his eyes filled with tears.

“The Arabs have done nothing to help, even though they can see the injustice done to us,” he insisted loudly.

The crowd parted as a pick-up truck arrived suddenly — a group of rebels transporting one of their dead fighters in the vehicle.

“With our souls and with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you O martyr!,” shouted people in the crowd.

After the procession reached the end of the street, the marchers turned and headed back to the mosque where the men quickly dispersed.

They have good reason to do so. Rebels of the Free Syrian Army may be in control of this area, but regime warplanes rule the skies.

Near the mosque are stark reminders of the constant danger: a couple of massive craters made by bombs dropped in an air raid just two days ago.