Diary from a besieged Syrian town

Activist describes mass arrests, beatings and executions during week-long crackdown in Syrian city of Dumair.

Dumair, the Syrian town 40km north-east of Damascus, has been under siege by security forces cracking down on anti-government protests since Monday.

On Saturday, Al Jazeera spoke with a local activist who gave a daily account of the “terrifying” week endured by residents.

This is what he told us, although Al Jazeera cannot verify events in Syria because of restrictions on reporting in the country.

Monday: Around 4,000 secret police and soldiers from the Fourth Division [commanded by Maher al-Assad] surrounded Dumair at 3am, including 40 tanks and military vehicles. We recognised the soldiers by their uniform and because they’ve been here before. There is a military airport near Dumair.

They set up checkpoints manned with machine guns and sent snipers onto the rooftops. The whole city was paralysed. No one could move around or go to work.

That lasted until around 10am. Brigadier Jamil Hassan [head of Airforce Intelligence] and Colonel Mohammed Rahmoun [Head of Airforce Intelligence in nearby Harasta] and a field colonel in the Fourth Division organised a meeting with public figures from Dumair.

They told them they are here to arrest every single person who took part in protests. They had a list with more than 2,500 names on it. Hassan threatened the public figures that either they surrender all the people or they would see something they would not like. 

They asked people close to regime and informers to leave town. Landlines, mobile phones and the internet were cut. Members of airforce secret police and thugs went around homes arresting people, touring around on motorcycles and in cars. An eyewitness told me sometimes they would be accompanied by informers who would tell them where wanted people live.

One of our field leaders, Khaled, had organised protests in Dumair and was wanted. So he fled town. His family was threatened and also left. When security forces went to the house to look for them they destroyed their belongings and arrested Khaled’s uncle and cousin instead, though they had never joined the protests.

By the end of Monday at least 350 people had been arrested.

Tuesday: Arrests continued and the town was completely shut down. At 9pm the army and secret police partly withdrew from city. While leaving the soldiers chanted: “We sacrifice our blood and soul for you Maher!”

A night protest began condemning the arrests and the turning of one of the elementary schools into a prison. It lasted about an hour. After that three buses of secret police re-entered the town. They attacked protesters using sticks and knives. They beat and arrested them, including teenagers and children.

One eyewitness who was by the police station said he saw a defecting soldier running towards the houses before he was caught by other soldiers. They took him to the checkpoint by the police station and kicked and beat him badly until a colonel showed up. He was told the soldier had defected. The colonel asked the other soldiers to step aside and then he took a Kalashnikov and emptied it into the body of the soldier, in front of everybody.

Wednesday: At 11am the Fourth Division and secret police withdrew from the town, but re-entered at night.

Thursday: The town was in lock down.

Friday: A protest started from the Nashawi and Khadija mosques. At Nashawi Mosque security forces fired tear gas at worshippers as they left the mosque, but the gas blew towards the soldiers so the people were able to escape to the Dosoqui Mosque where some 3,000 gathered. They came under siege and security forces opened fire randomly, killing six and wounding more.

Saturday: Around 2,500 mourners participated in the funeral procession for Farid Nasser one of the protestors killed on Friday. Security forces opened fire on the procession but we don’t know about any casualties yet. Nasser’s body was only handed back to his family today after it was seized by security forces as he was brought to the Jeroud hospital. Those brining him to the hospital said Nasser died of his injuries before he arrived.