SYRIA: Hama governor sacked amid eruption of mass protests [Video]
For once, it was the protesters who had the pro-regime forces on the run.
Video footage uploaded to the Internet from Friday's day of massive protests shows what appears to be anti-regime protesters in the northwestern city of Idleb chasing out bands of security agents and pro-regime shabiha militiamen.
A day after tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Syria's key central city of Hama demanding that President Bashar Assad leave office, the regime sacked the city's governor, Ahmad Khaled Abdel Aziz Saturday, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA.
No official reason was given for the governor's removal and theories behind the move vary. Some view it as an attempt by the authorities to appease protesters while others believe it's a trick by the Syrian authorities to find people to lay blame as protests appear to be gaining momentum.
One protest-organizer in Damascus told Babylon & Beyond that the move signaled that the Syrian ruler is on the move to find "scapegoats" and that more officials and public faces are likely to be dropped.
"Assad will sacrifice a few more of his regime in the coming days ... in an attempt to hijack the revolution," said the activist who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Syrian forces retreated from Hama weeks ago, allowing protests in the city to mushroom after fierce clashes that resulted in more than 60 dead. Hama, considered an opposition stronghold, is no stranger to uprisings and brutal crackdowns. In the early 1980s, the Syrian army crushed a Muslim Brotherhood rebellion against then President Hafez Assad, Bashar's father, killing at least 10,000 people.
Video footage uploaded to the Internet shows protests erupting across Syria on Friday -- a day of anti-government rallies that Syrian activists said Saturday claimed 28 lives, according to media reports.
The video clip below, apparently filmed through the window of a tall building, is said to depict crowds of demonstrators in a Hama square Friday chanting "God is great" and protesters marching with a Syrian flag on a nearby street.
The protest organizer said he did not think the firing of the Hama governor will pave the way for security forces to reenter Hama -- a scenario some fear-- and try to quash protesters considering the resistance hotbed it is.
"Renewed security crackdown in Hama is highly unlikely, as the regime is bound to fail or get stuck there," the organizer said.
In March, the Syrian ruler fired the governor of Dara, the southern town that launched the protest movement after the arrest and alleged torture of a group of teens accused of writing political graffiti.
Friday's nationwide anti-government rallies, which went under the slogan of "Friday of Departure" for president Assad, appear to have been some of the largest since the outbreak of the uprisings in mid-March. Hundreds of thousands of protesters reportedly took to the streets and city squares across the country calling for the fall of the regime and for Assad to leave power.
"The people want your departure Bashar" large crowds of demonstrators chanted in the central city of Homs as they carried banners saying "Go Out", according to the footage posted below.
Protesters gathered across a wide swath of the country from the Damascus suburbs and areas in and around Syria's second largest city, Aleppo, to the central parts of the country, from near Syria's border with Iraq, and the violence-stricken northwestern province of Idlib, among other areas.
This video, purportedly filmed Friday in the town of Bokamal near Syria's border with Iraq, depicts a long train of demonstrators marching down a street, some holding a large banner reading "Go Out" as chants of anti-government slogans emanate from a truck-mounted loudspeaker.
Many of Friday's deaths were reported to have occurred in Idlib where the Syrian army is reportedly sweeping through villages in military operations. That did not, however, deter demonstrators in the nearby town of Kafar Nabil who were out in force Friday, according to the footage below in which crowds are seen holding a banner reading "Bashar is a vampire, don't you see world?" and chanting "the people want the downfall of the regime."
The mass rallies came only days after the Syrian government authorized members of the Syrian opposition to hold a meeting in Damascus. Still, pro-regime elements and security forces fired on protesters in Friday's rallies, according to activist accounts and eyewitnesses.
At least three protesters were shot dead in Homs Friday by security forces and pro-regime forces known as Shabeeha, according to a statement by rights watchdog Human Rights Watch on Saturday.
In the clip below, purportedly filmed in the Homs neighborhood of Bab Sabaa on Friday, barrages of what sounds like gunfire rattle the air as a man chants "freedom" in the background and others shout in desperation "firing of live gunfire".
Meanwhile in Aleppo, plainclothes pro-government forces beat up demonstrators Friday outside a local mosque in the city with what looks like sticks and rods, according to this clip.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo and videos: YouTube