The Syrian government is executing soldiers who refuse to fire on protestors and preventing doctors from reaching wounded demonstrators, according to local opposition figures. It's the strongest crackdown on simmering discontent among pro-democracy activists and ethnic minorities, with more than 200 killed by government forces since clashes picked up in early March.
Last Friday's protests were the largest among recent disturbances, and sparked Syrian security forces to kill 27 people in the southern city of Deraa and one in Damascus. The most recent crackdown saw troops storm the city of Banias and "open fire haphazardly," before dragging young men from their homes into the streets to be arrested.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also accused Syrian troops of preventing demonstrators from reaching hospitals or of letting medical care coming to them. "To deprive wounded people of critical and perhaps life-saving medical treatment is both inhumane and illegal," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director. "Syria's leaders talk about political reform, but they meet their people's legitimate demands for reform with bullets."
The Damascus Declaration, Syria's leading pro-democracy movement and coalition of Islamist and liberal opposition members, called for the Arab League to impose sanctions on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. "Syria's uprising is screaming with 200 martyrs, hundreds of injured and a similar number of arrests," the Damascus Declaration group said in a letter, calling for the Arab League to impose "political, diplomatic, and economic" sanctions. "The regime unleashes its forces to besiege cities and terrorize civilians, while protesters across Syria thunder with the same chant 'peaceful, peaceful'," it added.
Continued strife and the harsh reaction of the government have also underlined divisions in the society and preventing the government from enacting an ambitious economic plan to combat rampant poverty. A Shiite minority from the Alawi sect rules the country, employing army forces and gangs on the majority Sunni nation. Christians and Druze populations maintain a fragile reliance on the government to control Islamist sentiments, while the Kurdish ethnic minority is clamoring for citizenship and more rights.