Syrian Troops Fire On Protesters Minutes After Friday Prayers in Bloodiest Day Yet

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Syrian nationals in Jordan protest in solidarity. Photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images

Security forces have reportedly killed as many as 70 protesters in Syria. They fired live ammunition and tear gas at anti-government demonstrators, in some cases as protesters were exiting mosques minutes after Friday prayer. Activists had organized peaceful "Great Friday" demonstrations around the country in what they hoped would be the largest opposition to president Bashar al-Assad yet. But troops deployed overnight ignored pleas to forgo violence. Observers in Damascus called the events a watershed moment, with the number of protesters and level of violence both escalating. But the Guardian reports a lack of cohesiveness in the protesters' demands.

On social networks like Twitter and Facebook, Syrians argue bitterly over whether protesters are demanding change too quickly or whether today's massacre is yet another sign that Assad's despotic regime must go before coming up with a plan for reform. Rather than the people versus the regime, altogether it paints a picture of Syria as a more conflicted uprising among the Arab spring.

According to the Guardian, in Kisweh, close to Damascus, protesters called for freedom from Assad, who has ruled the country since 2000 and succeeded his father's 29-year rule. In Banias near the Mediterranean, they shouted, "The people want to topple the regime." In some Damascus neighborhoods, there was chanting against Maher al-Assad, Bashar's younger brother, who commands the army's fourth division, which some Syrians regard as an elite private militia and claim is partly responsible for shootings that have killed more than 240 people in the past six weeks.

That doesn't take into account the number of Syrian activists who are trying to flee across the border to Lebanon and fomenting a revolution via cell phones and touchpads to avoid being jailed.

Andy Carvin, NPR's one-man Middle East news bureau, has a more chaotic Twitter feed than usual. Syrian journalist Danny-Ahmed Ramadan, who called Assad a pro-reformer, tweeted:


I was in Egypt and protesters there had clear vision and options for future. with these protests; only options is mayhem.

He added:


Government is already working on the reforms; protesting or not; stop the bloodshed from both sides and go home.

Others, like the Brookings Institute's Middle East policy researcher Shadi Hamid, tweeted:


No more discussion is needed. Bashar al-Assad is not a reformer, never was, and never will be. Time to move to plan B.

Le Shaque, a Syrian living in Beirut, responded to Ramadan's call for patience toward reform, tweeting:


Political discussions in Syria get us killed. We have to disable our killer before we can have a serious discussion.

One aspect of the protests isn't up for debate. Wissam Tarif tweeted that snipers are using Kalashnikovs, in some cases to bash in the heads of "martyrs." And Carvin linked to this very graphic video, reportedly of a protester with his face blown apart.

Syrian security forces shoot protesters [Al Jazeera English]
Syria troops kill protesters in country's bloodiest day of turmoil [Guardian UK]
Syrian Activist In Hiding Presses Mission From Abroad [NPR]
[ACarvin/Twitter]