Siege of Daraa
|Siege of Daraa|
|Part of the Civil uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War|
|Daraa population||Syrian government|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Unknown||Gen. Maher al-Assad
Gen. Suheil Hassan
Gen. Mohsin Makhlouf
Gen. Ahmed Yousef Jarad
Gen. Ramadan Ramadan
|75,000 or 300,000 inhabitants||4th Division (42nd brigade)
5th Division (12th, 15th, 112th, 132nd brig, 175th reg)
Special forces (35th, 41st regiment)
|Casualties and losses|
|estimates vary from 50 to 220 to 244 civilians killed, and nearly 1000 arrested||81, but their losses may well have been greater|
In response to the protests in Syria since 15 March 2011, with Daraa as the toughest centre of uproar, the Syrian Army on 25 April started an eleven days lasting siege of that city. This harsh reaction would prove to be another step in the escalation of the Syrian conflict, that would eventually escalate into a civil war.
The siege involved tanks, helicopters and perhaps 6,000 troops. Probably 244 residents were killed and almost 1,000 people arrested. There are unverified reports that an army division would have defected and joined the protesters.
On 15 March 2011, hundreds protested for democracy in Damascus and Aleppo, the largest cities of Syria. This started off a cavalcade of ever larger and angrier demonstrations all around Syria. On Friday 18 March, demonstrations erupted in four cities, the largest protest was in Daraa where thousands of protesters demanded an end to government corruption. These Daraa protests were repressed by security forces shooting at demonstrators, killing four people.
The city of Daraa remained a focal point for the Syrian protests. On 20 March, thousands took to the streets of Daraa for the third straight day, shouting slogans against the country's emergency law. Fifteen persons were killed and scores injured as security forces opened fire on protesters. The courthouse, the Ba'ath party headquarters in the city, and the Syriatel building owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Assad, were then all set on fire. On 23 March, security forces stormed on thousand demonstrators near the central Omari mosque in Daraa, killing at least 37 people.
On 8 April, heavy clashes erupted in Daraa between protestors and security forces, in which 27 protestors and 19 soldiers were killed. In the protests on the all-Syrian “Great Friday” 22 April, in Daraa 100 demonstrators were killed, according to Al Jazeera.
- Monday 25 April: Residents told: before dawn eight tanks – their first use against protesters since 15 March – drove into town with between hundreds and 6,000 troops; they took three smaller mosques and tried to conquer the Omari Mosque which since March had served as a headquarters for demonstrators; water and electricity and phone lines were cut, snipers took positions on roofs of mosques and were said to have fired, and a mix of soldiers and armed irregular forces, men with guns and knives, searched house-to-house for protesters.
- Dozens were killed in the predawn raid. Bodies were lying in the streets and couldn’t be reached without risking being shot at, a resident said over satellite phone; “they want to teach Syria a lesson by teaching Daraa a lesson”, he said. Another resident of Daraa said over the phone, according to Arizona Daily Star: "Let Obama come and take Syria. Let Israel come and take Syria. Let the Jews come. Anything is better than Bashar Assad." According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and another opposition source, the second-in-command of the acting army brigade refused orders to storm the city and was arrested himself.
- 26 April: According to human rights groups, dozens of people in Daraa were arrested by security forces. A resident said over the telephone to Associated Press: “We are being subjected to a massacre; children are being killed”.
- 28 April: Al Jazeera suggested, with amateur video pictures, that soldiers in Daraa refused to shoot at demonstrators, or defected, and then were wounded themselves, perhaps shot by the army, after which they were helped by civilians; the government immediately officially denied ‘any such reports’.
- Today, people in Daraa could still not leave their homes because snipers shot everything that moved, sources said to Al Jazeera. Between 25 and 28 April, 42 to 50 people were killed in Daraa by security forces, Al Jazeera and Los Angeles Times estimated. A Daraa resident said, according to the Los Angeles Times, that an entire army division or brigade had broken off and was hiding among the people; the claim could not be verified, due to foreign journalists not being granted access in Syria.
- Friday 29 April: Thousands of protesters from outside tried to enter besieged Daraa, security forces fired at them and killed 15, sources told Al Jazeera. In total, 33 people were reported killed today in Daraa, said activists. 156 people were arrested, according to the Syrian military.
- Daraa was now completely surrounded by tanks and armed troops, with snipers still on roofs and even hiding in minarets of mosques, an eyewitness said to Al Jazeera over the phone. Morgues contained today 83 corpses, according to prominent lawyer in Daraa Tamer al-Jahamani. Dead bodies still lay rotting in the streets, because collecting them was risking being shot, the eyewitness said to Al Jazeera.
- The government claimed it was battling “extremist and terrorist groups” in Daraa and that today two soldiers were killed.
- 30 April: Syrian Army troops backed by around 20 tanks and by helicopters, firing tank shells and machine guns and dropping paratroopers on the Omari Mosque, took this mosque that was a focal point for protests since March, killing six people, one of them being the son of the mosque’s imam, witnesses said.
- A witness told Al Jazeera that 300 soldiers had defected and joined the protesters, and that “there’s no food, no medicine, no electricity, we are collecting rain water to drink”.
- 1 May: Tanks today fired shells into Daraa’s ancient Roman quarter, a resident said.
- Daraa inhabitants were still confined to their homes, communications still down; the town since 25 April still without water, fuel or electricity. Unable to leave their homes, residents chanted “God is Great!” to each other from their windows in the evenings, infuriating security forces.
- A source in Daraa told Al Jazeera that security forces were intensifying their house to house searches, and that hundreds of people had been arrested. The government confirmed that 149 people had been arested in Daraa.
- 4 May: A Syrian military official told that security forces had arrested members of an armed terrorist group in Daraa, where they had found weapons and ammunition hidden underground and in gardens.
- 5 May: The Israeli website Ynetnews reported that only about 50 people were killed in Daraa since 25 April. The Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) today reported that 244 dead bodies of civilians, many of them children, have been transferred from Daraa to the Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus. Also 81 dead bodies of soldiers and army officers had arrived from Daraa in that hospital, most of them killed by a gunshot to the back, probably after refusing to shoot civilians, according to DCHRS. An amateur video, pretty sure from Daraa, shows dozens of people killed in the streets, people shot through the head. DCHRS speaks of “10 days of massacres” in Daraa, and says army units have been using anti-aircraft machine guns to shell houses in central neighbourhoods. Since 30 April, almost 1,000 men have reportedly been arrested in Daraa, the BBC reports.
- Syria's state run news agency and military officials announced that the military had "carried out" and completed "its mission in detaining terrorists" and restoring calm to Daraa and that army units had begun a “gradual withdrawal” from Daraa. Witnesses saw a column of around 30 tanks on armoured carriers heading north out of Daraa. Army units remained deployed at entrances to the city, they said.
- 7 May: The Syrian human-rights organisation Sawasiah estimated that during the 11-days siege 220 civilians were killed in Daraa.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the "outrageous" use of violence, and the U.S. prepared to freeze Syrian officials' American assets. E.U. countries, including permanent Security Council members France and the U.K., pushed the U.N. for international sanctions, though it remained unclear whether permanent council members Russia and China would support them.
With this Daraa siege, after the very bloody all-Syrian day of protests “Great Friday” 22 April 2011 (at least 109 deaths), many or all prominent international news media were unanimous that what they up until then had called the ‘Syrian protests’ since 15 March should now rightly be entitled the Syrian “uprising”. This uprising was to escalate further, and in June 2012 the United Nations officially proclaimed Syria to be in a state of civil war.
- 16 May 2011: On the outskirts of Daraa, twenty shallowly buried corpses were reportedly found by a farmer. Within an hour the Syrian army took control of the site, started removing the corpses and confiscated mobile phones of witnesses. The story could not be independently verified, partly because foreign reporters were not granted access into Syria.
- Between November 2011 and January 2013, the Daraa Governorate was the battlefield of clashes between the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army.
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