A week on from gathering together for the largest ever protest against the Assad family’s 41-year dictatorship, residents of Hama in northern Syria describe a city in open revolt as the military weighs an assault to retake control of what has become the center of the rebellion.
An activist in Hama said residents are burning their water and electricity bills, saying "We will not pay for the bullets you shoot us with." All shops and public institutions are closed and, for a third week in a row, there are no police or traffic cops on the streets. Residents have set up check points in main streets using garbage bins, tires, concrete breeze blocks, wooden crates, or just about anything they can lay their hands on, as videos from the city appear to show:
Yesterday the activist said electricity and water was cut in Hama but in response residents started a rumor that they would blow up the high voltage electricity lines that run from Turkey down to Damascus and on to Jordan, Syria's main connection to the European grid. Half an hour later, he said, the power and water were back on again.
Hama is now the regime’s biggest problem. Last Friday there was an almost a carnival-like atmosphere in the city, with a video now buzzing around the Syrian blogosphere showing a traditional Arabic call and response song between thousands of protestors in Hama’s main square, singing lyrics that ridiculed President Assad in a way never seen, or heard, before in Syria.
As Friday approaches this week, however, there is real fear the military could launch an assault to wrest back control of the city, stirring dark memories of the 1982 assault, ordered by Assad’s father, Hafez, to crush an armed rebellion by the Muslim Brotherhood. That attacked killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people and remains one of the worst acts of violence perpetrated by an Arab regime against its own people.
“The only weapons we have are stones and our belief in our own freedom,” said the activist. "The army will think twice before entering the city. People will not leave the streets and we’re ready to defend the city even if only with stones. If the army enters Hama it will be a huge massacre: Are they ready to kill another 20,000 of us?”