Syrian President Bashar Assad's bloody escalation yesterday presaged a dramatic turning point in the 4 month old uprising against his rule.
This is the month of Ramadan where devout Muslims attend local mosques every day for special prayers. It is expected that this will precipitate millions of Syrians pouring into the streets protesting against Assad's rule and that the regime won't have the muscle to deal with it.
Hence, the deliberate, planned bloodletting yesterday where at least 150 died in the restive city of Hama - scene of a bloody massacre of 10,000 in 1982 - and dozens more died in other protests around the country when the army moved in and opened fire on unarmed civilians. Assad is trying to intimidate people into staying off the streets. It is not likely to work.
I have an article up at FrontPage.com that discusses the events from yesterday and looks to what the future might hold:
The death toll in Hama is impossible to confirm, and is likely much higher than the 150 reported dead. One doctor told Reuters, as machine gun fire could clearly be heard in the background, "Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machine guns randomly and overrunning makeshift road blocks erected by the inhabitants." The doctor also noted that the blood bank is nearly dry and that medicines are in short supply. The UK Telegraph reported that "bodies littered the streets" of Hama.
The death toll in the Euphrates River provincial capital of Dair Alzour, where the people have been in open revolt for weeks, was at least 19. Reports from the town say that the military opened fire with several truck-mounted machine guns directly into a crowd of protesters chanting anti-government slogans while snipers gunned down others. One resident reported by phone that there were snipers on buildings in the center of the city. "They are on the rooftops of government buildings. People started chanting for the army's support but they opened fire in a merciless manner," he said.
There were also reports of crackdowns in the southern city of Dara, some of the same neighborhoods in Homs that have seen clashes between Sunnis and Alawites previously, and Idleb in the country's northwest, as well as the suburbs of Damascus.
The bloodletting was coldly deliberative - planned and coordinated for maximum psychological effect on the eve of Ramadan. The dawn to dusk fasting by the faithful is followed by prayers after the fast is broken. Activists hope that Ramadan will be a tipping point, that the daily visits to the local mosque will energize millions, and they are encouraging clerics to urge their followers into the streets. The protesters are even hoping to galvanize support in Damascus with a sit-in planned for Monday in conjunction with the start of Ramadan. Few large protests have been held in the capital due to the stifling presence of security forces.
Some analysts are asking if Assad can survive this month. As long as he has soldiers and his feard shabbiha Alawite militia who will gun down protestors in the streets, he will be able to stay in power.