About twenty people were killed by security forces and snipers in the coastal Syrian town of Latakia as anti-government protesters tried to burn down the local headquarters of the ruling Baath party as well as a police station.
According to a witness who spoke to Al Jazeera, police fired indiscriminately and snipers shot at specific people. Syrian security forces also reportedly fired tear gas at hundreds of people who staged a silent protest near a mosque in the town of Deraa, the focal point of the rising tide of protests against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad.
There were also clashes in the southern town of Tafas.
Activists claim that at least 55 people have died thus far in the Syrian unrest.
Bouthaina Shaaban, a Syrian presidential advisor, said There is a project to sow strife in Syria.” She also accused “foreign” elements of fomenting the dissent.
Ironically, the fresh violence erupted after the state released about 260 political prisoners – mostly Islamists and Kurds -- to appease protesters.
A reporter for Al Jazeera said:[The government has] released political prisoners before, more than 200 in a day is unprecedented. But this is a sensitive time in Syria with anti-government demonstrations, protesters demanding political reforms including lifting the emergency law which allows for arbitrary detention without trial. Those who burned government buildings in the tribal villages near Deraa where funerals were held want justice.
It is no longer a question of calling for political reforms or change. What they want is for those responsible for killing their brothers to be brought to justice. The government will have to reconcile with a lot of angry residents to contain the violence, mainly in the south.
Syria has been ruled by the Baaths for almost fifty years under stern emergency laws, which allows state security to arrest and hold suspects without filing any charges. However, the government recently stated it may consider lifting the emergency and allow the formation of political parties.