The revolutionary trend sweeping the Arab world in recent months has now reached Syria. A hospital official said 37 people have been killed since Wednesday, apparently by government security forces, in Dara'a, located in southern Syria near the Jordanian border.
As uprisings in spread in Egypt and Tunisia, eventually driving the ruling autocrats from power, children in Dara'a wrote slogans on walls calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than 40 years. About 15 children under age 14 were recently arrested in connection with the graffiti.
Last Friday, protesters who took to the streets in Dara'a and neighboring towns to demand the children's release were met with water cannons, tear gas, and eventually bullets from security forces, killing several people. But instead of deterring the protests, the government's action seemed to spur them on. On Wednesday, security forces reportedly killed six people at Dara'a's central mosque, including a doctor who was treating the wounded.
On Friday, tens of thousands of Syrians reportedly took to the streets after prayers to denounce Assad's government and reject a series of concessions announced by the regime one day earlier. Those concessions included salary increases for government workers and greater freedom for political parties and the news media.
Hundreds of people demonstrated Friday in Damascus denouncing the regime and vowing to "sacrifice our blood, our soul, for you Dara'a."
White House spokesman Jay Carney condemned the Assad regime's crackdown, specifically "the Syrian government's brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces." Watch video of the crackdown here.
Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who lived in Syria for a decade, said that six days of protests this large were unknown in Syria since 1982, when then-ruler Hafez Assad killed upwards of 10,000 people in the Hama Massacre. On Friday, Reuters reported that people marched through the streets of Hama after Friday prayers chanting "Freedom is ringing out" in solidarity with the anti-government protests.
CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds, who was stationed in the Middle East for nine years, points out that a weakened Assad regime could undercut the alliance between Tehran and Damascus. "A destabilized Syria has big implications for Lebanon and for Hezbollah. Syria has been the Lebanese overlord for decades and Hezbollah has been Iran's meddlesome pet," Reynolds writes. "Iran has been helpful to Hamas, although Hamas is a Sunni Muslim movement. All of those relationships could be in jeopardy."
That is why "you are seeing Bashar Assad shooting at his own people now, Sure he has promised increased freedoms for discontented citizens and increased pay and benefits for state workers, but his military action suggests he knows the protesters will not be bought off by such benefits."