‘Won’t back down’: Druze Syrian town gathers after regime kills protester

Mourners and protesters gathered at the funeral of Jawad al-Barouki, 52, in Sweida on Thursday.

Mourners and protesters gathered for the funeral of Jawad al-Barouki in Sweida in southern Syria on Thursday [Ali Haj Sulaiman/Al Jazeera]

Idlib, Syria – Syrian regime forces have shot and killed one protester and injured another in Sweida, a Druze-majority governorate in southern Syria.

The Sweida 24 news website reported on Wednesday that Jawad al-Barouki, 52, had succumbed to his injuries from gunshot wounds after security forces guarding a government building opened fire on protesters.

The demonstration was to protest against the reopening of a security settlements centre – where people with security reports filed against them have to go to have them “settled” with the authorities.

Activists shared photos online showing regime forces firing live bullets to disperse the protesters in and around the Seventh of April Hall, where the centre’s offices are.

The centre had been closed for several months as a result of popular pressure against the government. The news that it was being reopened specifically to monitor such peaceful activists sparked anger among protesters in Sweida, many of whom had risen up to close it in the first place.

“The fall of the first martyr won’t make me back down, on the contrary, it increases my determination to protest for our rights,” said Anana Hassan, an activist from Sweida city.

This is the first recorded death since economic protests gripped Sweida last year and quickly turned into protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hassan told Al Jazeera that popular discontent in Sweida against the Syrian regime grew after al-Barouki’s killing and that he hopes this will lead to an increase in the number of protesters in the squares.

“There are many people who believe in the rights we’re demanding but haven’t joined us yet because they … don’t believe that protests yield results against a dictatorship like the Syrian regime,” Hassan said.

“Our demands won’t change: the overthrow of the Assad regime, improving the living conditions on all levels and seeking to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” he added.

Sheikh Hikmat al-Hajri, the spiritual leader of the Druze Muwahhidin sect, ordered that al-Barouki be mourned as a martyr of duty, describing his killing as treacherous but underlining the need for protests to remain peaceful.

Mourners and protesters march in Sweida on Thursday at the funeral of Jawad al-Barouki, 52, killed by Syrian regime forces during a protest earlier in the week [Fahad Kiwan/Al Jazeera]

A martyr’s funeral

Thousands of residents of Sweida, with heavy participation from the popular movement, mourned al-Barouki on Thursday morning in Samara Square in the centre of Sweida city.

The funeral procession included chants against al-Assad, calling for the killers to be held accountable.

“The funeral of the martyr today demonstrates the extent of the people of Sweida’s adherence to their demands to overthrow the murderous regime and to maintain the peaceful nature of the protests, which the regime fears more than any weapon,” said Maher, an activist from Sweida and former director of the supply department.

Maher told Al Jazeera that what the protesters fear most is an escalation by the security apparatus and the gangs that they control, which could drag peaceful protesters into militarisation and taking up weapons against the regime.

“Taking up arms against the Syrian regime and its security apparatus is not an option because we know this step will help the Assad regime end the popular movement,” Maher said.

He called on the international community to stand with the Syrian people. “Just once, the international community shouldn’t look at its interests at the expense of the blood of Syrians and must seek to stop the crimes committed against this people.”

Druze Sweida
Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Youssef Jarbou (centre) at the funeral of Jawad al-Barouki, 52, who was killed by regime forces earlier this week in Sweida, southern Syria [Fahad Kiwan/Al Jazeera]

Suspicious attacks

Activists in Sweida are suspicious of a series of attacks that held Sweida in their thrall overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, with sounds of explosions and gunfire heard in various parts of Sweida city.

No one claimed responsibility for these attacks.

Ever wary of the regime trying to force an armed confrontation, the activists say these attacks were all near Syrian regime forces but did not cause any real losses and were not even mentioned by official Syrian media.

“The attacks that occurred on security and partisan sites yesterday in Sweida were not claimed by any of the armed factions opposed to the Assad regime,” Omar Edlbi, head of the Doha office at the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“The Assad regime may be involved in trying to provoke these attacks to push the revolutionary protest movement in Sweida towards armed confrontation,” he continued

One of the Syrian regime’s strategies against popular movements is to contain them while allowing them to continue until the members begin to leave on their own, despairing over the utility of their movement, Edlbi said.

However, he added, the fact that Sweida’s movement continued for so long indicates that this particular strategy wasn’t working for the regime.

“I believe that the movement in Sweida will continue until the protesters’ demands are met and until the Syrian issue is put back on the international agenda,” Edlbi added.


Source: Al Jazeera