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29 Aug, 2011 07:37

‘Free Syria: From whom? From what?’

At least six people have been killed on Monday in clashes between Syrian security forces and the opposition across the country. Meanwhile, residents of Latakia doubt whether their future under a new president would be any better.

At least five people – one of them reportedly a child – were killed in a search operation in Idlib province in Syria’s northwest, say peace activists. Another 60 people were wounded in the operations, which also partially destroyed six houses, says Agence France Presse citing local rights groups.One more person was shot dead during an arrest operation in the town of Qara outside the capital of Damascus.In the latest development, Syrian security forces are laying siege to Rastan, a town in central Syria, which has become a stronghold for dissidents.These events come as the country's leader Bashar al-Assad has announced a new law lifting censorship and granting freedom of expression. The new law will also grant foreign journalists easier entry into the country. This will enable them to write independent reports on events in Syria, says RT’s Irina Galushko, who is currently in the country.Arab League members have urged Syria to end the bloodshed in an official statement. It was rejected in Damascus, however, where it was described as a violation of the organization’s principles.European countries had earlier proposed hitting the regime with new sanctions. But Russia says the measures will not help and has called on both sides in the country to negotiate.

Events in Latakia

Latakia bears a special significance for Syria and for President Bashar al-Assad. His father is from a village near the city, which is predominantly Alawite, just like the rest of the province. So when protests broke out here in March, they took a personal turn.The building of a telephone company Syriatel, owned by the president's cousin, is situated on one of the city’s main squares. When protests began, people expressed their hatred towards the president by looting the place and then burning it.Violence returned to Latakia again just a couple of weeks ago, claiming more than 30 lives. Anti-government protests broke out in the Sunni part of the city. Officials said they were battling with armed groups that had infiltrated the area.According to Western media, government war ships were shelling the Sunni section, which is stretched along the coastline and has a camp for Palestinian refugees right in the middle. However, sources in the US administration stated that there were no ships stationed in the bay on August 17 or earlier.Indeed, when RT visited the city on Monday, the crew did not witness any mass shelling by government forces, either from air or sea, anywhere in Latakia.When asked about the events that transpired, people on the streets in the Sunni part of Latakia spoke of gunmen fighting government troops.“Armed men entered our quarter and started provoking the armed forces, so they would fire back. Some buildings were damaged, but not significantly,” Palestinian refugee Akhed Khubun Abu Jamil told RT.Some people unwilling to speak on camera shared their views, critical of the Assad regime, saying the government is to be blamed for failing to deliver on five-month-old promises of reforms. This, they say, forced the people out on the streets, stirring up protests.The reluctance of people to speak on camera is of little surprise, considering RT’s crew was followed by and armed military escort – the only way to get through to this part of the city.On the surface, it seems to be life as usual, but once you take a closer look, signs of unrests come through, with bullet holes covering walls of many buildings. With the entire country now being at a crossroad, its people are scared, and that fear may well be the only thing which is holding them together.“We are killing ourselves. Our main goal seems to tear us apart,” a Sunni woman says. “When we are like that, how can we blame the president? What do they mean by ‘Free Syria’? From whom? From what? We are the source of all problems. No one can guarantee the next president will be better. We might just end up like another Iraq.”