The British Foreign Office has advised UK citizens in Syria to consider leaving the country due to deterioration in the security situation as protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad continue.
Despite the lifting of emergency laws and other political concessions, unrest in Syria persists.
The British government stated: We advise against all but essential travel. This is because of continuing disturbances in urban centers across the country, and reports of live gunfire by security forces resulting in an increasing number of deaths.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office added: The safety of British nationals is always our primary concern. At present there is relative freedom of movement, with all major roads and airports remaining open and with commercial airlines still running scheduled services with capacity available. It should therefore be possible for British nationals to leave if they choose to do so.
In the latest anti-government demonstration in Syria, thousands of people have assembled in the city of Homs to maintain pressure on Assad to make more democratic reforms. The residents have defied a government order not to participate in any public demonstrations.
However, people in Homs have vowed to continue protests in the city’s Clock Square, following the declaration of a general strike.
According to Al Jazeera, Homs, normally a bustling city of 1.5-million, looks like a ”war zone” with all businesses shut down in observance of the strike.
In addition, Syrian security forces detained a prominent opposition figure, Mahmoud Issa, in Homs.
Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Right, told Al Jazeera: A patrol of the political security services arrested [government] opponent Mahmoud Issa on Tuesday night in Homs after he gave an interview to Al Jazeera.”
Issa was in jail for much of the 1990s for belonging to the Communist Labor Party. He was also detained from 2006 to 2009 for signing the Damascus-Beirut Declaration, a petition which called for the normalization of relations between Syria and Lebanon.
Issa has earlier demanded that Syrian officials investigate the death of General Abdo Khodr al-Tellawi in Homs and arrest the perpetrators.
SANA, the state-controlled news agency, claimed that al-Tellawi and his family had been murdered and mutilated by “armed criminal gangs.”
Meanwhile, activists in the town of Deraa, in the south of Syria and the site of previous protests, vowed more demonstrations on Friday.
We are preparing for a huge demonstration on Friday, an activist in Deraa told Al- Jazeera.
A separate protest by students in the city of Aleppo was broken up by state police. Suhair Atassi, a Damascus-based activist said 37 students were beaten and arrested and beaten in Aleppo.
Although the Assad regime is lifting the emergency laws (in place since 1963 when Hafez al-Assad seized power), observers believe they will be replaced by new laws just as repressive.
For example, the Syrian interior ministry recently passed legislation that will require people to get permission to demonstrate.
The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who praised Assad for lifting the emergency, added “I call on the Syrian security forces to exercise maximum restraint and on the Syrian authorities to respect the people's right to peaceful protest.
He added the regime should act urgently to respond to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people for political change and move towards implementing much needed reform.
Chris Phillips, a British analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, told Al Jazeera that Assad is only making cosmetic changes.
I understand that police chief in Baniyas was sacked while the governors of Homs and Deraa were also removed after violence, he said.
So, there is at the moment a tendency for the president to cherry-pick individual members of security forces or members of administration to be the scapegoat. However, it's not institutionalized as there's not a set system of for accountability for either members of government or members of security system, which is what people complain about. What people seem to be wanting is a different kind of government, a government that's accountable to its population, which is completely new. It has not taken place since the Baath party took to power in 1963.”
Phillips added: “In my opinion the regime is continuing with the approach of stick and carrot, offering a few slight superficial tactical changes. They are still trying to hold on to as much real power as they possibly can while dissuading the protesters from coming out either through slight concessions or through quite serious force.