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How teenagers with a can of paint sparked Syria's uprising

March 15, 2012 | 12:59 pm

Dara

It started with some teenagers and a can of paint. “The people want to bring down the regime,” the students wrote on a wall in the southern Syria farming town of Dara.

Echoing the Tunisian revolt that began with a fruit seller setting himself on fire, the Syrian uprising is believed to have been sparked by a single striking incident. When word spread in the Syrian town that the youths had been arrested and allegedly tortured, protests erupted calling for freedom not just for the jailed teens, but for all Syrians.

The government crackdown backfired. "People in the street got organized when their children were killed and beaten," an activist in Damascus told The Times when the protests first erupted.

The violence continues to rage across the Middle East nation. Opposition activists said two people were killed in Dara on Thursday as government forces fired on protesters. Electricity was off.

As Syrians marked the one-year anniversary of the rebellion Thursday, there were some striking accounts of events that have taken place in Dara since the uprising began:

The Daily Star (Lebanon):

With the chanting crowd gathered outside the mosque, the local police intelligence chief Atef Najeeb, responsible for the arrests, arrived at the scene, [activist] Ahmad says.

“When they saw him, the people went crazy,” he says. “They ambushed his car and shortly afterward the army turned up.”

Soon afterward the mayor arrived. Ahmad says he asked the crowd what they wanted. “They told him: ‘we want our children,’” he says.

“He waved his hand in a way that we knew meant ‘forget your children.’”

“He left. The military started shooting immediately.”

The Los Angeles Times:

Syrian security forces besieging the city of Dara have been ordered to use "any means necessary" to crush the rebellion that sparked the weeks-long uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad, a Syrian military source said Saturday. ... One witness in Dara described a state of war, with security personnel entering homes, drawing weapons in front of terrified children and detaining any males older than 15. Residents told of bodies accumulating on streets and in gardens.

The Dara protests began to grow exponentially, falling into a familiar and tragic pattern: The funeral for those killed a day earlier would swell into a mass rally against the regime and security would open fire, killing more and guaranteeing an even larger turnout at the next funeral.

Le Monde:

Electricity, water and phone lines have been cut. Without access to supplies, milk and essential foods have run out. The 15,000 residents under lockdown are facing famine. Everyday, during the evening prayer, thousands of voices rise above the neighborhood for the rest of the city to hear: “Milk! Water!” they scream, their voices barely muted by bursts of gunfire. 

The Washington Post / The Guardian:

A new video uploaded to YouTube appears to show a troubling scene from [Dara,] Syria. The video begins with shots and screaming heard in the background and then pans to a man in military dress, who kneels and aims his gun at a boy holding a stone. The boy runs away:

The Pulitzer Center:

Outwardly Dara is calm. Streets have few shoppers, but there are no obvious signs of unrest. We meet with Dara’s mayor and district attorney. Government handlers show us the local courthouse that was gutted just a few days after the anti-government protests began.

These government officials spin a well-developed narrative to explain events. People in Dara and elsewhere began with peaceful protests and legitimate grievances asking for more democracy. But almost immediately extremists seized control of the demonstrations.

... In Damascus I interviewed Mahmood, a 26-year-old activist who lives in Dara. “People in Dara used Molotovs and rifles,” he admits. “But it was a reaction to the government arresting and killing protestors."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles and Rima Marrouch in Amman

Photo: This image made from amateur video released Monday is said to show Syrian protesters running in Dara. Credit: Shaam News Network

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