Report on Civil Activities (Jul 29-Aug 8, 2016)
Translated by Lilah Khoja.
In recent days in Syria, civil society organizations and activists have carried out a number of activities drawing attention to events in Aleppo and as-Suwayda’ as well, including protests in front of a government building in response to the killing of a civilian by the National Defense Forces (NDF) and a rebellion in the city’s central prison.
Protests in Eastern Aleppo Celebrate Breaking of the Siege
After the armed opposition was able to break, on August 5, the siege enforced by the Syrian army and its allies on around 300.000 civilians in Aleppo, a number of Syrian cities, including Eastern Aleppo, witnessed celebratory rallies. In the streets, they raised the Syrian independence flag and banners thanking the Army of Conquest (Jaysh al-Fath).
In besieged Daraya, a city in the Damascus countryside which is subjected to daily barrel bombs shelling, some civilians, including women and children, took the streets to congratulate Aleppo on this victory.Anger for Aleppo
Anger for Aleppo, or the Day of Rage for Aleppo, is the campaign that was launched by Syrian activists, to help the besieged city before the siege was lifted. In early July 2016, regime forces had in fact successfully cut the road linking areas controlled by opposition forces in Aleppo to Turkey.
Russia and the regime advocated the opening of “humanitarian corridors”, calling on fighters to drop their weapons and on civilians to exit the area, mirroring scenarios that had already happened in other parts of the country ahead of their return under full government control. Opposition members have also denounced the continuous targeting of civilians in areas that should be turned into “humanitarian corridors”, whereas pro-regime media outlets have accused rebels of hampering the evacuation.
On July 31, 2016 a campaign called “Anger for Aleppo” was launched on Facebook. Media activist Hadi al-ʿAbdullah wrote on his wall: “Fight with words, wherever you are. Anger for Aleppo is a campaign directed by Syrians and Arabs in diaspora to call attention to the siege of 400,000 people in Aleppo. Let words be next to weapons.”
[Video: Protest in Aleppo calling for the siege to be broken – published on 29-7-2016 (Shahba Press)].
[Video: Nightly demonstration in ʿAzaz, Aleppo northern countryside, calling for the siege to be broken – published on 31-7-2016 (SMART News Agency)].
The graphic materials designed for the campaign feature a fist surrounded by the Citadel of Aleppo above the words “Anger for Aleppo”. This was circulated extensively on social media, alongside videos purporting to show the destruction caused by regime forces.
In various parts of the besieged city, protesters came out waving the independence flag and demanding the siege be broken. Women emerged in protest, most notably carrying a sign that read “Aleppo is fighting the (Islamic) nation (ummah)’s battle.”No Al-Qaʿida, So Why Kill Us?
In response to attacks carried out by the US-led International Coalition, the Asad regime, and the Russians under the pretext of targeting the self-declared Islamic State (IS) and the Nusra Front, a number of protests took place in the outskirts of Idlib and Aleppo. The attacks launched by the Western coalition and the Asad regime have in fact claimed the lives of many civilians in Northern Syria.
The protesters chanted and carried signs in Arabic and English decrying these crimes, saying: “There is no Al-Qaʿida here, so why do you kill us?” These protests erupted in late July, after the Nusra Front announced its split from al-Qaʿida.
Cleaning Campaigns in Idlib
On July 29, in the Idlib countryside, most notably Saraqib, Maʿarrat an-Nuʿman, Kafranbel, Maʿarrat Harma, activists launched a region-wide clean-up campaign in villages and towns where there had been no shelling for a while. In the early morning, they carried out basic waste collection and the clearing of dirt and ruins from recently demolished areas.
This campaign was launched in order to remind people of the right to life after the “airplanes of death” had wrought their destruction.
Rebellion in Suwayda’ Central Prison
Those who had been detained the longest in as-Suwayda’ Central Prison called on their cell-mates to participate in acts of disobedience in response to the poor treatment to which they have been subjected, and the transfer of four political prisoners to Damascus to potentially face the death penalty.
This prompted several prisoners to arrest police officers and gain control of some sections of the prison, which was then shared widely on social media including an audio recording attributed to one of the detainees that confirmed the above. The recording states that the sit-in began at 11:45pm on August 3, featuring the involvement of a number of political activists detained for their participation in the Syrian uprising.
[Audio recording, in which one of the inmates purports to document the insurrection in as-Suwayda’ Central Prison – 3-8-2016 (Zaman al-Wasl)].
After negotiations failed, security forces broke into the prison. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported that “government forces attacked as-Suwayda’ prison by firing teargas and live ammunition, injuring at least ten prisoners, two of whom are in critical condition.” As of August 5, 2016 the SNHR could not verify the final death toll.
The event went completely ignored in pro-regime media outlets.
Government Building Encircled by Outraged Crowd in Suwayda’
On August 4, a number of as-Suwayda’ residents attempted to storm the governorate building in protest of the murder of a resident at the hands of the NDF, colloquially known as the Shabiha.
Rayyan Abul-Fakhir, a civil engineering student from the city who works in al-Wafa’ Garden, prevented some NDF members from entering the part of the park designated for families. The NDF affiliates left and returned with others, and stabbed him to death.
Some people reacted by organizing a sit-in outside of the governorate building, demanding the killers be executed and the security situation reassessed. Some witnesses claim that the sit-in ended with people storming the building, after it was shown that the regime was either unable or unwilling to respond to their demands. Others maintain that a group of Druze religious and tribal leaders succeeded in tranquilizing protesters, so that the building was not stormed in the end.
Needless to say, there was no coverage of these demonstrations in pro-regime media outlets.
[A video that purports to show demonstrators breaking into the as-Suwayda’ governorate building, even though most of them are still standing in front of the entrance – published on 4-8-2016 (Suwayda24)].
[A video that purports to show Druze religious and tribal leaders addressing the crowd of protesters in an attempt to calm them down. The title reads: “Thousands call for the hanging of the killers of Rayyan Abul-Fakher” – published on 4-8-2016 (Harakat Fursan al-Haqq)].
Sports League Pursues Integration in Tartus
In Tartus, a group of civil society activists, with the help of the Syrian Civil Society Forum set up a football league.
According to those in charge of the activity, the league aims to encourage youth to practice their athletic skills and to create community links between the residents of the town and the displaced. Teams from different parts of the governorate participated. The organizers of the event noted that they hope to renovate the local stadium to make it more accessible for their needs.
Women’s Workshops on Educational Strategies in Idlib
The Women Now for Development center in Ma’arat al-Nouman (Idlib countryside) hosted a workshop titled “Active Learning Strategies” that was attended by 29 women from various schools and institutes. The workshop dealt with pedagogical theories, cooperative education, and the variances between seminars and debates.
[1st photo: Young men from Daraya holding signs calling for the siege on Aleppo to be lifted – 8-8-2016 (The Local Council of Daraya’s Facebook page)].