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Syrian Protesters Reluctant to Give Eyewitness Accounts

Syrian army soldiers stand guard at Sheikh Daher Square after the violence between security forces and armed groups in Latakia, northwest of Damascus, March 27, 2011

In Syria, security forces and demonstrators clashed as protests swept across the country Friday, a day after the government announced reform measures aimed at meeting opposition demands. The Reuters news agency said Syrian security men killed at least three protesters in a southern suburb of the capital, Damascus. Anti-government rallies against Ba’ath Party rule took place after Muslim prayers in at least three Syrian cities.

VOA's David Byrd and Usama Farag were monitoring Twitter and other Internet sites in efforts to talk to eyewitnesses on the ground in major Syrian cities. Many protesters were reluctant to talk for fear for theirs and their families' safety. But they did reach a few.

Byrd: It has been very difficult to get information out of Syria, that is independently confirmed, separate from the state-run media but we were able to contact some people who were in Daraa and also in Douma on Friday. My colleague Usama Farag joins me now. Usama, you told me that one of the people we contacted did not want to talk to VOA because he was afraid for his own safety.

Farag: Yes. Actually, David, that citizen was kind of hesitant when I contacted him. And he said that he’s away from the city and can’t talk to us and he had other mobile phone shut.

So, basically, he did not want to talk to us because he was concerned about security forces in the city itself?

Farag: Yes.

Byrd: Okay. But we did get through to one person in Douma. And I understand that the day started out with Friday prayers and then peaceful marching. But that’s not how it ended.

Farag: Yes, actually after he finished the Friday prayers he tells me that they got out of the mosque and they started marching in the streets, shouting “Peaceful, peaceful” or silmiya, silmiya [in Arabic]”, to be surprised by the security forces attacking them with the stones and the sticks. And after that the security forces started using tear gas and live bullets, he tells me. After that they forced them into dispersing in different groups and they attacked each group separately, using live bullets and that actually led to many casualties. The guy tells me that in his own group six were actually injured by live bullets.

Byrd: Now this Syrian citizen, I understand, said that it was no justification for the harshness of the crackdown.

Farag: Yes. Actually he says that this harsh confrontation by the Syrian security forces was not justified at all, taking in consideration the peaceful march of the citizens of Douma. And he also calls for the troops to leave the streets. And he appealed to the president of Syria to pull them out of the streets of Douma so that the people in the city can live their life peacefully and normally without the fear of being hit by live bullets. And he also added that the people of Douma are totally against terror completely.

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