There have been protests in Syria for almost a week now, but the demonstrations turned especially violent on Wednesday when security forces opened fire on hundreds of protesters in the southern city of Daraa, killing at least 25 people, according to Reuters. The protesters want the government to grant more political freedoms and root out corruption.
Syrian soldiers and special police units are now patrolling Daraa's streets, and journalists are banned from the area, according to Al Jazeera. Around 20,000 Syrians marched in the city on Thursday during the funerals of nine protesters, demanding freedom, Reuters reports. Syrian state television said only four people were killed in Daraa on Wednesday, and blamed the deaths on an "armed gang" attacking an ambulance. Syrian officials have also blamed the unrest on foreign powers like Israel.
Reuters explains that Daraa, which borders Jordan, has traditionally been supportive of Syria's ruling Baath Party. The city--like Syria as a whole--is majority Sunni, while President Bashar al-Assad's regime is largely Alawite--a Shiite sect. Some protesters in Daraa, Reuters notes, have denounced the government's alliance with Shiite-ruled Iran.
Al Jazeera says pro-democracy demonstrators are now taking to social networking sites to call for mass protests across Syria on Friday.
But how far will the unrest go in Syria? Protests are banned in the country, and Assad has often resisted calls for reform. Al Jazeera's Gregg Carlstrom says the protests in Daraa bear similarities to rallies elsewhere in the Arab world and represent the "deepest popular unrest" Assad has experienced, but they also stem from local grievances like water shortages and a recent influx of migrants from the eastern areas of the country. Many in Syria also "have bitter memories of former president Hafez al-Assad's brutal repression of opposition groups in Hama" in 1982, Carlstrom notes, though the younger Assad has taken a middle path by deploying security forces to the city while also making some conciliatory gestures. "A key question," Carlstrom says, "is whether [Assad] can contain the protests in Deraa. They have not spread widely outside of the city, save for scattered (and small) demonstrations in Damascus, Homs and Banias. Syria's restive Kurdish minority has shown little interest in joining the fray."
The U.N., the U.S., and France have all condemned the recent violence in Syria.