With Libya in the grip of civil war, political violence in Bahrain and Yemen, and Egypt recovering from the overthrow of Mubarak, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad now seems to be edging closer to explosion.
Syrian security forces on Wednesday fired on anti-regime protesters near a mosque in Daraa, on the border with Jordan, killing five and wounding scores, activists while the government blamed a “gang” for the violence.
Hundreds had gathered at the Omari mosque to prevent police from storming it. Security had been beefed up after they set up tents to camp there.
“Security forces fired live bullets and teargas on protestors” staging a sit-in near the mosque, a rights activist said, adding, “they cut off electricity and the firing started.”
The official SANA news agency said the attack was carried out by a gang, and left four people dead including a security force member.
“An armed gang after midnight attacked a medical team in an ambulance at the Omari mosque, killing a doctor, a paramedic and the driver,” SANA reported.
“The secur ity forces who were near the area intervened, hitting some and arresting others,” it added, without elaborating.
“These gangs have stored weapons and ammunition in the Omari mosque” and “used children they had kidnapped from their families as human shields.”
Syria, which is still under a 1963 emergency law banning demonstrations, has seen a string of unprecedented protests demanding the end of the regime for one week now.
And while the government of Assad has promised to probe the Daraa killings, analysts warn the situation is volatile.
“The tension is still latent at this point, but the situation is explosive,” said Haytham Maleh, a Syrian human rights lawyer detained for five months in 2009 for criticising the government.
AFP photographers in Daraa said their car was stopped in the old town and their equipment confiscated.
After being taken in for questioning, they received an apology from the authorities, but had not received their equipment back.
The photographer said soldiers were manning checkpoints at all entries to the town and were cross-checking the identity cards of travellers with a list of names they had compiled.
The demonstrations also spilled into the nearby towns of Jassem and Noa, where eyewitnesses said more than 2,000 protesters gathered for a rally before being quickly dispersed by security forces.
Six people had been killed earlier in a security crackdown on the Daraa demonstrations, including an 11-year-old boy who died Monday after inhaling tear gas the day before.
The crackdown on protesters earned a harsh rebuke on Tuesday from the European Union, which condemned the “violent repression” of the rallies as “unacceptable.”