Syrian forces resort to nail bombs as protesters rally
Published 31/12/2011 | 05:00
SYRIAN security forces used nail bombs and stun grenades yesterday as protesters rallied in record numbers to show an Arab League peace mission their opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
Protest organisers had appealed for an unprecedented show of force from their supporters -- but even they were taken aback by the scale of the response as hundreds of thousands took to the streets.
By nightfall, it appeared that the last Friday of 2011 was quite possibly the most momentous of a tumultuous year in Syria. In the northern province of Idlib, an estimated 250,000 people gathered in 74 locations, defying even the most optimistic expectations of activist leaders.
There were protests in each of Syria's 14 provinces, opposition officials said, with sizeable demonstrations in a number of districts in Damascus and Aleppo, the two biggest cities.
In part, the turnout could be attributed to a significantly reduced army presence on the streets. Tanks were withdrawn to the outskirts of the city of Idlib as the regime sought to demonstrate that it was at least paying lip service to Arab League demands that it stop shelling civilians.
The use of artillery against protesters has been the government's favoured way of quelling unrest over the course of the nine-month uprising.
The tactic has ensured that disaffected soldiers do not get close enough to protesters to defect while inflicting maximum terror.
Deprived of its weapon of choice, the regime was forced to resort to cruder methods. The security forces fired automatic rifles at protesters in the cities of Hama and Dera'a and, according to opposition groups, used nail bombs to disperse demonstrators in Douma on the outskirts of Damascus.
Amateur video footage yesterday appeared to show an injured anti-regime activist in Douma being dragged along the ground.
Tens of thousands gathered outside Douma's Great Mosque after noon prayers. Security forces moved in as they attempted to march on Baladia Square in the centre of the town.
"Halfway there, the security forces attacked, firing tear gas and nail bombs," said one protester, who identified himself as Ahmed. "The crowds dispersed, everyone was trying to hide. More than 100 were injured. Nails riddled the lower part of one man's body. It seemed he no longer had legs."
The regime has been accused of using nail bombs since August, resulting in a large number of amputations that have often been conducted in makeshift field clinics because protesters taken to hospitals have frequently disappeared.
Elsewhere in the country, the security forces used tear gas and stun grenades, which proved just as ineffective in beating the crowds back. In some areas, protesters wore white shrouds to symbolise their readiness for martyrdom.
Protest organisers were exultant, claiming that the day was a turning point, one on which a growing number of Syrians had shed their fear to join demonstrations for the first time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)