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SYRIA: Protesters in Lattakia brave security forces

July 25, 2011 |  8:15 am

A tense atmosphere has engulfed the Syrian coastal city of Lattakia as residents cautiously anticipate a crackdown by security forces that have been encircling the city for two months.

As security forces rampage through homes, mosques and neighborhoods, arresting hundreds and keeping families from burying their dead, protesters are taking to the streets, residents told Babylon & Beyond during a recent visit to the seaside city famous as a fount of Levantine cuisine and culture.

Amateur video uploaded on the Lattakia News Network website shows protesters marching through the streets of the city on Sunday, chanting, "For you, Dara, we sacrifice our souls and our blood," in reference to the southern city that sparked the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad. 

"The streets are completely cut off," said Muhanad, a 24-year-old who asked that his full name not be published. "They don't let anyone come in or out of the city unless they are thoroughly searched. Even the women are not spared this process."

Syria-jul-25On Ramel Street, a southern roadway located between the Mediterranean and Horsh Avenue, the military has besieged whole areas, cutting off food and medical supplies, residents said.

"The military's security forces do not even let bakeries make bread without permission," said Abu Jaafar, 55. "Security forces don't even let through the diesel that is needed by the bakeries to make the bread. Trucks loaded with food and aid are not allowed through without a permit."

He added, "They want us to obey them or starve."

Many of the residents of Ramel Street have lost their livelihoods, and this has dealt the city's economy a damaging blow. Young men cannot work because they are always on the run, constantly fleeing the clutches of the security apparatus, residents said.

"They rummage through the streets, looking for suspects to arrest, looking for the faces of the names they have on their lists," said Ahmad, 40, a fisherman in the city. "They once took away an elderly woman."

Almost 2,000 Syrians, mostly protesters, have died in the four-month uprising that has posed the largest challenge to the four-decade rule of the Assad regime. 

Several mass graves have been discovered across Syria, with the bodies of whole families found in some. Humanitarian organizations and activists have said they expect dozens more.

"It is forbidden to hold funerals in the streets," said Samer, a 33-year-old in Lattakia who spoke on condition his last name not be used. "Several bodies have been buried in the residential street itself. Several of the wounded eventually died because we were unable to get them the necessary medical attention. Security forces have not let us remove their bodies from the area." 

Nevertheless, many protesters remain unbowed, and on Ramel Street, demonstrations have gone on for months. The protests have spread to other districts, such as the areas around Sijin Street and Qawtli Street, and have even reached the city center of Lattakia, only to be intercepted by security forces in Ogarit Square. 

"This is the price we have to pay for freedom," said Samer. "This is what pushes us to leave our homes everyday and take to the streets despite the continuing brutality of the security forces."

Residents told stories of security forces entering mosques, terrorizing those praying inside and demanding that they stop protesting. 

Protesters have learned how to outwit security forces by moving protests from neighborhood to neighborhood to escape the military apparatus that remains loyal to Assad, residents said.

"Being constantly on the move is the best way to avoid police brutality," said Muhanad. "We will continue to take to the streets no matter what, and we will make sure we reach our goal. We will continue until the Baathist police state comes to an end."

-- A special correspondent in Lattakia and Roula Hajjar in Beirut

Video: Images said to show protesters in Lattakia on Sunday. Credit: YouTube

Photo: Demonstrators take to streets in Lattakia. Credit: Lattakia News Network

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