Protester killed in raid on Syrian government building in Sweida

The Guardian
The Guardian
People take part in a protest in Sweida, Syria, on Sunday.

A protester and a police officer have been killed during an anti-government demonstration in Syria’s Druze-majority Sweida province.

Seven people were wounded during the incident on Sunday, at a rare protest in the country where President Bashar al-Assad stamped out a pro-democracy uprising over a decade ago. Assad survived the resulting civil war but the conflict has plunged Syria into poverty, coupled with a food security and energy crisis.

Though Sweida has generally been spared from the fighting, anti-corruption protests have occurred in the province over the past few years. On Sunday, dozens of residents gathered by the Sweida governor’s building, complaining about economic hardship and chanting anti-government slogans before some broke into the building.

The Syrian interior minister said the people who raided the building were armed, and that they destroyed furniture, smashed windows and looted files. He said a police officer was killed after protesters attacked a police station.

An activist media collective, Suwayda 24, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition group, said security forces fired live ammunition at protesters. One video from the collective shows protesters carrying a man bleeding from his thigh.

“There is a large deployment of security forces in the area, and you can still hear gunshots,” said Rayan Maalouf, who heads the Suwayda 24 collective.

Nashaat al-Atrash, a Druze legislator in Syria’s parliament, condemned protesters for raiding the governorate building and called for calm. “All of Syria is going through an economic crisis,” he said on Al-Ikhbaria television, claiming that outside forces could be trying to stoke tensions.

After an Islamic State attack on Sweida in 2018, more residents took up arms to protect their neighbourhoods. Local activists reported clashes last summer between armed residents and armed groups aligned with the Syrian government and security agencies.

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