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Little cheer in Syria as Ramadan begins

The usual nighttime cheer is missing as the unrest continues. But there's also a sense of anticipation amid hope for a knockout blow to President Bashar Assad.

August 03, 2011|By Roula Hajjar, Los Angeles Times
  • An image taken from amateur video released by Ugarit News and accessed by Associated Press Television News shows mourners carrying the body of a man during a funeral in Homs, Syria. Security forces on Sunday moved to stamp out protests in Homs, the country's third-largest city.
An image taken from amateur video released by Ugarit News and accessed by… (Associated Press )

Reporting from Beirut — The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, usually a time when streets are bustling at night with cheery shoppers breaking their daytime fasts, is off to a dreary start in Syria, with many shops closed and mosques empty, residents say.

But it's also a time of anticipation for many Syrians, who hope a knockout blow will be delivered against the government of President Bashar Assad during the annual religious holiday.

"We haven't seen days like this in a long time," said a 60-year-old shopkeeper who goes by the honorific Abu Omar. "People don't have money and they don't want to buy anything. As storeowners, we bought many items, and now we don't know how we are going to sell them.

"Market activity these days has more or less stopped," he said. "Money is running low."

Security forces have shut down Sunni Muslim mosques in Damascus suburbs such as Moadamyeh, Duma and Kiswa. Mosques in the capital that were known for being gathering points for protesters have been emptied and closed off by the largely Alawite Shiite Muslim armed forces.

"They are using our religion to get back at us," said a resident, Hiyan, 36.

But protesters are determined to continue their months-long uprising against the decades-long rule of the Baath Party.

"The month of Ramadan will be what determines the fate of the uprising. Every day will be a Friday, and we will take to the streets no matter what," said Hisham, another Damascus resident.

Large protests formed in the suburban cities of Saqba, Homouriya, Kfar Batna, Duma, Harista and Zamalka on Monday night, the first night of Ramadan, activists said. The demonstrations ended as security forces arrested young men in the heart of the capital.

Banners carried by protesters were noticeably more religious this time.

"Oh, God bless our fasting and our efforts to bring an end to the regime," one read.

Violence also continued in the large western city of Hama. In video uploaded online Tuesday, Hama residents could be heard praying in the pitch dark as heavy gunfire is heard in the background.

"God have mercy on those who have fallen, and render us victorious, protect the youth whose hearts have been our shield," says a prayer leader.

"God hear our prayers," the crowd follows.

Hajjar is a special correspondent.

A special correspondent in Damascus contributed to this report.

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