Syria Suffers First Popular Outbreak of Violence As Furious Protests Erupt

by DEBKAfile

26 September 2002

The construction of a new ring road around Damascus was the pretext for an outbreak of popular anti-government fury in the Syrian capital this week. Until now, stringent measures by the Syrian authorities have kept any hint of the unrest from leaking out.

DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources have discovered that, last week, when the highway’s road-works began edging into the southeast Damascus neighborhood of Kabas, angry residents tried to block the incursion bodily. When this was unavailing, they began demonstrating. Last Saturday and Sunday, September 21-22, the demonstrations escalated to violent anti-government riots that raged for two days and were marked by violent slogans against the Assad regime. Sympathizers streamed in from other parts of Damascus to join the protesters.

After 48 hours in which the police failed to quell the unrest, army troops were called in. The next day, Monday, September 23rd, President Bashar Assad sent bulldozers escorted by troops into the defiant Kabas neighborhood with orders to continue building the road. The bulldozers also knocked down several houses.
The series of clashes ended with an unknown number of arrests and casualties. Some reporters who covered the outbreak were arrested and every scrap of reporting - print, photo and footage - was confiscated. Our sources add that the total blackout clamped down on the episode is part of the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of unrest - sparked as much by popular disaffection and economic suffering as by a local incident - to other parts of the capital.