SYRIA: Ramadan kicks off with tumult and economic hardship [Video]
The holy month of Ramadan, usually a time when streets are bustling with cheery shoppers as they make their purchases throughout the night until the last hours before dawn, has begun on a dreary note in various Syrian towns as shops remain closed and mosques remain empty, residents reported.
But it appears to also be a time of hope for many Syrians, who wonder whether Ramadan will deliver a knockout blow against the regime of Bashar Assad.
"We haven't seen days like this in a long time," said a 60-year-old shopkeeper who goes by the honorific Abu Omar. "People don't have money, and they don't want to buy anything. As store owners, we bought many items, and now we don't know how we are going to sell them."
Stores anxiously anticipate their next customer, who is in turn waiting to be provided with the money to be able to make purchases. The market slowdown will undoubtedly deal a severe blow to the already struggling Syrian economy.
"Market activity these days has more or less stopped. Money is running low. Salaries have significantly decreased to about 200 dollars a month, and this is barely enough to meet basic requirements, so how are these people going to buy the extras that are traditionally bought during Ramadan?" asked a 60-year-old woman who gave her name as Um Hiyan
Security forces have shut down mosques in restive areas such as the Damascus suburbs of Moadamiya, Douma and Kiswa. Mosques in Damascus known for being a gathering points for protesters have been emptied and closed off by the armed forces, which have largely remained loyal to Assad.
"They are using our religion to get back at us," said Hiyan, 36.
But even as mosques shut down, shops close and pockets empty, anti-regime protesters say they remain adamant on continuing their months-long uprising against the rule of the Baath Party.
"The month of Ramadan will be what determines the fate of the uprising. Everyday will be a Friday [a usual day of protest], and we will take to the streets no matter what," said Hisham, another resident of Damascus.
Eyewitness accounts and footage posted online indicate that Ramadan could be the most turbulent month yet in the popular uprising to remove Assad.
In the video above, a large crowd of demonstrators clap and march through streets of the Midan neighborhood, close to the Damascus city center.
Large protests stirred in the suburban cities of Saqba, Homouriya, Kfar Batna, Douma, Harista and Zamalka on Monday night, the first night of Ramadan, activists said. The demonstrations were brought to a halt at the heart of the Syrian capital, as security forces arrested handfuls of young men, they said.
Banners carried by protesters were noticeably more religious in nature, in keeping with the contemplative Ramadan spirit. "Oh, God bless our fasting and our efforts to bring an end to the regime," read one.
Mass arrests continued Monday night in areas close to the capital, such as al Hajar al Aswad and the Midan. According to residents, more than 200 protesters were taken into custody.
"We entered houses in the early hours of the morning," said one security official who has spoken repeatedly to Babylon & Beyond and The Times on condition of anonymity.
"We seized those young men whose names were on our lists," he said. "If we did not find them, we arrested another member of their family."
The video posted above is said to show some residents of the southern city of Dael running through the streets as they are shot at.
"We sacrifice ourselves for you, Hama," they chant. The large western city of Hama has been a focal point of anti-government activity.
International leaders are working on a possible United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss potential punitive action against Syria after Assad's security forces launched one of the bloodiest offensives to date in the uprising, killing a number of civilians in Hama on Sunday.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Amnesty International called on the Security Council to take action to stop the crimes committed against protesters in Syria.
"It's clear that President Bashar al-Assad is unwilling to halt his security forces, so the U.N. must take decisive action to stem this violent campaign of repression," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Violence continued in Hama on Monday, as video uploaded on Tuesday shows what is said to be residents of the city praying in the dark against a backdrop of heavy gunfire.
"God have mercy on those who have fallen, and render us victorious; protect the youth whose hearts have been our shield," one protester leads in prayer.
"God hear our prayers," the crowd follows.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to meet U.S.-based Syrian opposition figures Tuesday.
-- A special correspondent in Damascus and Roula Hajjar in Beirut
Photo: An image said to show protesters in the streets of the Midan neighborhood of Damascus. Credit: YouTube
Upper video: Imges said to show demonstrators marching through streets in Damascus on the first night of Ramadan. Credit: YouTube
Lower video: Images said to show protesters marching through Dael and being met with gunfire. Credit: YouTube