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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Syrian security forces detain protesters in southern city

The city of Suweidah is controlled by a patchwork of militias and security forces [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 June, 2020

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Anti-regime protests erupted in the southern city of Suweidah last week amid a crash in the local currency.
Syrian security forces detained several demonstrators on  Monday in a southern city that has seen days of anti-regime protests amid a crash in the local currency and sharp price increases, opposition activists said. 

Monday's crackdown is the first since protests began in the city of Suweidah last week, where dozens of people have been demonstrating every day over deteriorating living conditions.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said regime supporters attacked the protesters in Sweida with "hard objects" wounding several. It said security forces detained more than 10 protesters.

The Observatory said the detentions led to another protest in which the demonstrators called for the release of those detained.

Many protesters are calling for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, who has for the past nine years led a brutal crackdown against dissent since anti-regime protests first erupted in 2011. Demonstrators have also voiced sympathy for opposition Idlib and Daraa, the former southern rebel province which has also witnessed an uprising against the regime.

The Suwayda 24, an activist collective covering events in the province, said security forces detained four protesters.

The economic meltdown comes ahead of new US sanctions against any entity or country that does business with the Syrian regime. The sanctions are due to take effect later this week but they have shaken the already teetering economy.

Known as the US Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, the sanctions are expected to worsen the already dire economic situation in Syria, where more than 80% of people live below the poverty line.

The national currency, the Syrian pound, has tumbled in recent weeks, reaching a record low to the dollar. The pound, which traded at 47 pounds to the dollar before the 2011 uprising, plunged to over 3,000 to the dollar last week before it made some gains in later days.

Prices of basic goods have skyrocketed while some staples have disappeared from the market as merchants and the public struggled to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Suweidah is controlled by a patchwork of local militias, some with a rocky relationship with the regime, and government security forces.

The southern city has been prone to instability and crime during the war, despite being less affected by direct fighting.

The Islamic State group carried out a series of massacres in the province in 2018, leaving around 200 people dead. Al-Nusra Front militants also carried out a massacre in the province in 2015.

Locals have blamed the regime for not preventing the massacres and activists also suggested the regime could be behind general lawlessness, as a way of regaining direct control over Suweidah.

Suweidah has seen various challenges to regime rule, including by the Sheikhs of Dignity, whose leader - Sheikh Wahed Balaus - was murdered in 2015.

The group had advocated neutrality for the Druze community during the Syrian war and has had various run-ins with rebel, Islamist and regime groups alike.

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