DARAA, Syria – The Syrian government pledged Thursday to consider lifting some of the Mideast’s most repressive laws in an attempt to stop a weeklong uprising in a southern city from spreading and threatening its nearly 50-year rule.
The promises were immediately rejected by many activists who called for demonstrations around the country on Friday in response to a crackdown that protesters say killed dozens of anti-government marchers in the city of Daraa.
“We will not forget the martyrs of Daraa,” a resident told the Associated Press by telephone. “If they think this will silence us they are wrong.”
On one side in Syria stands a regime unafraid of using extreme violence to quash internal unrest. In one infamous example, it leveled entire sections of the city of Hama to put down an uprising by the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in 1982.
Facing the regime is a loosely organized protest movement in the main city of southern Syria’s drought-parched agricultural heartland.
Sheltering in Daraa’s Roman-era old city, the protesters have persisted through seven days of increasing violence by security forces, but have not inspired significant unrest in other parts of the country.
President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Iran and its regional proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, appears worried enough to promise increased freedoms for discontented citizens and increased pay and benefits for state workers – a familiar package of incentives offered by other nervous Arab regimes in recent weeks.
“To those who claim they want freedom and dignity for the (Syrian) people, I say to them we have seen the example of Iraq, the million martyrs there and the loss of security there,” presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban told reporters in the capital, Damascus, as she announced the promises of reform.
Shaaban said the Baath Party Regional Command, the country’s top decision-making body, would draft a law to allow political parties besides the Baath, and loosen restrictions on media.
In Washington, the White House condemned what it called the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrations and the killing of civilians by security forces.