Translation first picture: “Syria is beautiful, but more beautiful without Assad”
On Friday March 4, 2016 massive popular demonstrations throughout the liberated areas of Syria occurred under the slogan “The revolution continues”. More than 100 protests were recorded on this day, according to various opposition figures. In the demonstrations, protesters were chanting the original songs of the revolution: “The people are one and united”, “Death rather than humiliation”, “The People want the downfall of the regime”, “The Syrian people want freedom”, “Revolution for dignity and Freedom”, etc….
The spirit of the beginning of the revolution could be felt with democratic and non-sectarian slogans, and as a protester wrote on his placard: “the doors of the peaceful revolution reopen”. The Syrian revolutionary flag was seen everywhere. It is interesting to note that salafist djihadist military forces and their symbols were absent from these popular demonstrations, while Jabhat Al-Nusra soldiers organised a small demonstration against the massive popular demonstration in in the city Ma’aret al-Naaman, Idlib, and chanted slogans against democracy and secularism, and for an Islamic state. They also told the demonstrators on the squares to wear the full niqab as real men go to fight on the military front.
During the past week, protests against the Assad regime were also organised in Aleppo, Damascus countryside (Daraya and Dhumeir), Da’el and the countryside of Quneytra. As a protester said in the besieged town of Daraya, “Of course we’re going to seize this opportunity (to protest) because the rest of the time there were constant barrel bombs and shelling”. In the free neighborhood of Aleppo, mass demonstration erupted the second day of the truce, chanting: “The people want the downfall of the regime”. Another protest occurred in Aleppo countryside, Al-Atareb, on February 27, demanding for opposition military factions to unite under the Free Syrian Army banner, and express their solidarity with the villages that are being bombed amid the truce, while calling on the Jabhat Al Nusra to exit their city. Civilians and activists in Al-Atareb declared during the preparation of the Friday protest their will to revive the peaceful Syrian revolution, which demanded freedom and justice and dignity according to them. Many protesters across the country express a similar will to encourage peaceful demonstrations as a way to come back to the spirit of the revolution.
These massive demonstrations come nearly one week after a cease fire negotiated between the U.S.A and Russia that slowed the pace of hostilities although not completely, as Assad forces and its allies continued to bomb and attack some areas held by the opposition, where the Islamic State group and Jabhat Al-Nusra, which are not included in the truce, are not present.
The city of Daraya was for example suffering the bombing of regime airplanes during the past week. Activists in the Latakia countryside and neighbouring Idlib province also complained during the week that the internationally brokered ceasefire was not protecting civilians. While airstrikes have lessened, ground fighting and bombardment continues unabated in the opposition-held Jabal al-Turkman and Jabal al-Akrad areas of the northeastern Latakia countryside, as regime forces continue a months-long offensive to drive opposition forces from their last remaining territories there.
The Syrian regime has also captured at the beginning of the week new agricultural territory in Damascus’s East Ghouta suburbs despite the ongoing ceasefire. On Monday, regime forces advanced in the al-Marj region, comprised of 28 villages 14 km east of central Damascus. They took control of the Agricultural Center, a trade school that rebels had turned into a military base, along with al-Fadhaiya, a village that was formerly home to satellite television broadcast stations in the center of al-Marj.
Meanwhile, at least 18 members of the FSA were killed on March 2 in a suicide car bomb attack against their position in a village in southern Syria. “Eighteen members of the Revolutionary Front of Syria, including four of their leaders were killed by the explosion of a car bomb that targeted their position in the village of al-Achi in the province of Quneitra”. Daech is suspected of being behind the attack.
Since September 30, the Russian air strikes have killed 4408 persons, including 1733 civilians, 429 children and 250 women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Over 60% of victims are armed men, including 1,492 of various FSA groups and of Jabhat Al Nusra, and 1183 members of Daech.
In the province of Raqqa, fighting has continued since the weekend of 27 February between YPG (military wing of PYD) and Daech, which attacked the town of Tel Abyad, on the Turkish border. Redur Xelil, one of YPG officials said on Wednesday, March 2 that 43 YPG soldiers were killed along with 140 djihadists of Daech. He also reported the death of 23 civilians.
Meanwhile, military clashes between FSA forces and Islamists (but not Salafi djihadists) on one side and the YPG continued on the outskirts of Aleppo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) (II), which is dominated by YPG, supported by the Russian air raids have seized several towns that were controlled by FSA groups and Islamists in northern Aleppo province in mid-late February 2016, near the Turkish border. Collaborations with the Assad regime even occurred in these offensives, according to various opposition forces on the ground. The PYD has actually kept open communication channels with the Assad regime since the uprising began in 2011 and cohabit with regime forces in the cities of Qamishli and Hassake, in which regime forces continue to organize normally in these localities. The Assad regime has also officially supported the military advances of the PYD in the Aleppo province. Moreover, numerous abuses took place against Arab civilians in areas dominated by YPG forces.
That said, we must also condemn the members of the opposition of the Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhoods and right wing forces, allied with Turkey and the Gulf monarchies who supported Turkish bombing against the PYD and Kurdish civilians, while they have not denounced the bombing of Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud in Aleppo by the Salafist jihadist forces of Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar Sham. These bombings made dozens of civilian casualties and scores of injuries on the weekend of February 27 and continue until today, with the killing of many civilians on Sunday March 6, 2016.
Again, one must challenge the political leadership of both entities to realize and achieve the unity of the Syrian people, including Arabs and Kurds, on the basis of a democratic and inclusive program to deal with the counter revolutionary forces of the Assad regime and Islamic fundamentalist forces.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights monitoring group documented more than 180 ceasefire violations by regime and opposition forces in the first five days of the ceasefire. The far majority of violations was made by the regime forces. 135 people have been killed, including 32 civilians, in areas covered by the ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement since it came into force on February 27. In areas not covered by the truce, 552 people were killed. Nevertheless some aid was delivered in besieged cities such as in the city of Mouadamiyat in al-Sham, in the periphery of Damascus, controlled by opposition forces and which is surrounded by regime forces. According to Mr. de Mistura, the UN recently sent aid to 115,000 people located in besieged cities, but 300,000 other people need help, and 4.6 million are in areas difficult to access. Opposition forces nevertheless condemned the fact that medical and food supplies were still being blocked despite the truce.
In addition, the Syrian opposition declared on Friday March 4, that the Assad regime was mobilizing forces on many fronts despite an agreement to cease hostilities, and cast doubt on whether peace talks planned for next week would take place. On Friday, regime or Russian warplanes mounted the first air strike against the town of Douma near Damascus since the start of the cessation.
On its side, the United Nations said the next round of peace talks would normally resume in Geneva on March 10, although The opposition is dissatisfied with the implementation of the deal and has yet to say whether it will attend the new talks. Fighting continues in many parts of Syria, and opposition groups say the Syrian regime, backed by Russian air power and fighters from Hezbollah, has kept up attacks on strategically important frontlines. The opposition also demanded the release of prisoners and the delivery of humanitarian aid, in accordance with resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council. The lack of confidence of the Syrian revolutionaries for the respect of the ceasefire by the regime was expressed very strongly in the massive mobilizations of Friday, March 4, as shown by a placard of a protester saying “the traitor (Bashar Assad) does not make any truce unless in the Golan Heights (occupied by Israel). ”
De Mistura said that “the agenda of the negotiation is clear: first negotiations for a new government, a new constitution secondly, and thirdly, parliamentary and presidential elections within 18 months.” A departure of the dictator Assad still seems far away in these conditions, while no radical change in the authoritarian regime, including its security forces, is on the agenda…
The past few days and especially the massive popular demonstrations have shown that Free Syrians are ready to take all opportunities of even a partial respite from airstrikes, to reiterate their revolution and the objectives of the revolution as illustrated on a placard in the city of Saqba, Damascus countryside, saying “The cessation of hostilities does not mean a cessation of the revolutionary movement” or also by the revolutionaries of Kafranbel in Ma’aret al-Namaan: “ceasefire is a ceasefire; our peaceful revolution is still in progress until toppling Assad and imposing justice all over Syria”
These massive popular demonstrations with its democratic and non sectarian slogans remind the world, once again, that there is an alternative to the Assad regime and Salafist djihadist movements, the two counter revolutionary actors of the revolution and the two losers of Friday’s demonstration. The alternative is these Free Syrian people that despite the bombings, the sieges and the mass crimes of the Assad regime on one side and the attacks and authoritarian practices of the salafist djihadist forces on the other side, still organise the daily lives of their free villages, neighbourhoods and regions through their local popular revolutionary councils. The local councils run by Free Syrians have been able to organise and provide assistance (education, health services, welcoming and giving shelter to displaced population, organising rubbish collections, organising demonstrations, etc…) to the local population despite everything. These are also the same popular councils that have been demonstrating to demand the various armed opposition forces to unite under the banner of the Free Syrian Army and uphold the objectives of the revolution.
The mass participation from below of the Syrian revolutionary people has showed and is showing once again its power and resilience when it can.
As chanted by the revolutionaries “Fives years after the beginning of the revolution, the people still want the downfall of the regime”.