As the Syrian uprising enters its fifth month, signs that the country is beginning to tear apart at the seams are becoming ever clearer.
Far out in the dusty, tribal heartlands of Syria’s east, on the border with Iraq, scenes of raucous protest captured on a camera phone show residents of Albu Kamal sprawling over two tanks and an armored personnel carrier sent into the city to wrest back control, but whose crews abandoned them after quickly becoming overwhelmed by people power.
“The people and the army are one hand,” chant the protestors, their excitement palpable. The slogan was widely heard during the Egyptian uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February.
According to residents quoted by Reuters, some 1,000 troops and security forces backed by tanks and helicopters surrounded Albu Kamal, an impoverished border town of 150,000, on Sunday, a day after Military Intelligence agents there killed five protesters, including a 14-year-old boy.
The killings drove thousands into the streets, overwhelming soldiers and secret police. Residents said around 100 Air Force Intelligence personnel and the crew of at least four armored vehicles joined the protesters.
Albu Kamal is on the eastern-most edge of the province of Deir Ezzor, an area dominated by powerful and well-armed tribes, where hundreds of thousands protested on Friday. The province, at the heart of Syria’s oil exports, has largely slipped out of the control of authorities over the past month.
The pro-regime daily Al Watan said: “The situation … is explosive, so the army is preparing to intervene. The authorities fear an armed revolt in this border town where [insurgents] can easily find logistical and political support.”
With the east facing a possible full military assault, the first reports of sectarian killing between Syrian citizens themselves came from Homs, an industrial city in central Syria, which has been at the vanguard of protests.
Clashes between Allawites, the minority Shia sect to which the president and many ruling elites of Syria belong, and the majority Sunni residents of Homs left at least 30 killed, Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on Monday.
“These clashes are a dangerous development that undermines the revolution and serves the interests of its enemies who want to turn it into a civil war,” he said.