The May 13 demonstrations started in Syrias predominantly Kurdish northeast. Some 3,500, mostly Kurds, marched in Amouda and 4,000 Kurds, Arabs, and Christian Assyrians in Qamishli. Kurds also protested in Deir Abasiyeh.
The majority of Syrias population are Sunni Arabs. The Assad family comes from the Alawite minority, a branch of Shiite Islam.
Kurds are an oppressed nationality in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. In Syria, where Kurds make up 9 percent of the population, some 300,000 of them have been denied citizenship since 1962. Most do not have the right to own land; use of the Kurdish language is restricted.
Protesters in the Kurdish rallies May 13 chanted Syria for all its sons and The Syrian people are one. For the first time 12 Kurdish political parties issued a statement on the current struggle, calling for fundamental reform to end repression and single party rule.
Thousands also marched in Daraa, a mostly Sunni town near the Jordanian border where the rebellion began, and in Homs and Hama. There were three protests in Damascus, the capital.
The turnout appeared to be lower than in previous weeks, Al Jazeera said. The news agency attributed this to the ongoing siege in a number of the most restive towns.
More demonstrations took place May 16, including in Saqba, a suburb of Damascus. In Homs 3,000 marched. In Aleppo, a large industrial city, 2,000 students rallied May 17.
Syrian information minister Adnan Mahmoud claimed May 13 that army units had withdrawn from Daraa and were pulling out of Baniyas. Assad reportedly ordered troops not to shoot demonstrators. But the National Organization for Human Rights said that at least 34 people were killed in villages near Daraa in the last five days. Assads government announced May 15 it would initiate a national dialogue.
The authorities say they want national dialogue and they conduct it with tanks, a Syrian woman who had fled to neighboring Lebanon told Al Jazeera.
Hundreds of Syrians in the border town of Tell Kalakh fled into Lebanon May 14-15 as Syrian troops shelled their homes. At least 16 died. More than 5,000 have crossed into Lebanon as the crackdown has widened.
Both rising inflation and unemployment are contributing to the frustration with the regime. The government itself said the unemployment rate climbed to 12.6 percent in 2009, and some place it closer to 20 percent. Oil production, at the heart of the countrys economy, has dropped steadily since 1995. Syria, once a net wheat exporter, now has to import the grain.
When Assad took power in 2000 after the death of his father, he promised to loosen state control of the economy and encouraged private investment. Subsidies on fertilizer and fuel were slashed. The price of fertilizer shot up 100 percent to 400 percent. These moves had their biggest impact on working people, while a handful of businessmen and allies of Assad increased their wealth.
On May 15 thousands of Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese crossed into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of Nakba, the day the state of Israel was established on Palestinian land. The Israeli Army seized Golan from Syria during the 1967 war. More than 10 people were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on the unarmed protesters, like their counterparts in Syria have been doing at demonstrations there.
Syrian troops, who normally keep tight control of the border in order to maintain stable relations with Israel, allowed the protesters through. Damascus then condemned Tel Aviv for the shootings.
It would not be the first time Damascus has used the Palestinians as a bargaining chip to further its own ends, despite its rhetoric as a defender of the Palestinian fight for self-determination. In the 1975-76 civil war in Lebanon, Syrian troops entered the country to block a revolutionary upsurge there. They prevented Palestinians militants from defending the Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp from the Lebanese army and rightist militias, leading to hundreds of deaths.
The border incidents also served as a reminder of the role Damascus plays in helping maintain the status quo in the region. Theres no way there will be stability in Israel if the uprising in Syria succeeds, Syrian tycoon Rami Maklouf warned, appealing to Washington and other imperialist powers to not put too much pressure on Assad. Maklouf is one of those who has profited handsomely from Assads anti-working-class policies.
White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the Israeli action, saying Tel Aviv has the right to prevent unauthorized crossing at its borders and criticized the Syrian governments involvement, calling it an effort to distract attention from the harsh crackdown perpetrated against its own people.
Washington has imposed relatively light sanctions on the Syrian government. While at loggerheads with Damascus for decades, U.S. imperialism fears the consequences of the overthrow of Assad for the stability his regime has provided for capitalist order in Syria and the region.
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