When Syrian security forces entered the home of 42-year-old Hama resident Abu Zeid and put a gun to the stomach of his 8-year-old son, armed confrontation against the government of President Bashar Assad suddenly became a more imaginable option for the Syrian man.
“‘Do you want us to take you instead of your father?’” Abu Zeid recounted, describing how security forces threatened his young son earlier this summer.
Abu Zeid, who for safety reasons asked that he not be identified further, has since been on the run, fleeing a Syrian security apparatus that remains loyal to Syria’s four-decade-old Baathist regime.
“Our regime is strong and maybe it cannot but be fought with force. We wanted to remain peaceful, but how long are we going to last? Until they detain and murder thousands more?” he said by telephone. “We are desperate.”
Syria’s opposition movement is adamant that it will remain nonviolent, saying that peaceful methods hold the best prospect of overthrowing Assad’s regime and building a unified, prosperous nation afterward.
“Taking up arms is not an option. We will remain unarmed and we will succeed unarmed, God willing,” Omar Idby, a member of the Local Coordination Committee opposition coalition, said by telephone.
But Abu Zeid’s experience shows how the brutality of the crackdown is driving some Syrians to contemplate more extreme methods.
According to Abu Zeid and other activists, tight security measures have been taken in the restive city, where the forces of Hafez Assad, father of Bashar Assad, killed at least 10,000 people while crushing an uprising in 1982. Hama, which remains a historic symbol of defiance to the Alawite Baath rule of the Assad family, has also been the scene of one of the fiercest and bloodiest crackdowns in the current 5-month-old uprising.
“There are checkpoints everywhere. They are increasing day by day,” Abu Zeid said. “You can pass a checkpoint once or twice,” but if you arouse the suspicions of security forces, “you will be arrested or even killed.”
He was bitter about Syrian opposition figures in exile, saying they had escaped the suffering of ordinary people in Syria standing against the government.
“The opposition goes to Turkey or God knows where and they create councils and alternatives, but they know nothing. Let them come here and be afraid for their lives and the lives of their children like we are every day,” Abu Zeid say.
Separately on Tuesday, Amnesty International released a report slamming the Assad government for the alleged inhumane treatment of detainees. The reported detailed allegations of horrific accounts of torture that took the lives of 52 anti-government protesters out of at least 88 dissidents confirmed to have died behind bars in recent months.
“These deaths behind bars are reaching massive proportions, and appear to be an extension of the same brutal disdain for life that we are seeing daily on the streets of Syria,” wrote Neil Sammonds, Amnesty International’s researcher on Syria.
Ten of the victims accounted for in the report are children, some as young at 13.
Most of cases mentioned in the report are from Homs and Dara as well as Hama and Idleb, where protesters have grown increasingly defiant in the face of brutal crackdowns.
The rights organization has viewed video footage, made by relatives of the deceased, for more than half of the cases, and has also asked independent pathologists for a forensic review.
“Taken in the context of the widespread and systematic violations taking place in Syria, we believe that these deaths in custody may include crimes against humanity,” Sammonds said, urging the U.N. Security Council to act on the alleged rights abuses.
The security forces continue their hunt for anti-government protesters, acting with impunity in the country’s central cities such as Homs and Hama, as well as the areas in and around Damascus, activists say. The regime has also clamped down on several activists in the historically tribal area of Dair Alzour bordering Iraq.
In Dair Alzour, “Security forces surrounded the neighborhoods, raiding houses, and arrested handfuls of young men,” reported Abdallah Furaty, a member of the Local Coordination Committees, one of the Syrian activist networks present on the ground.
“From 1 a.m. until 10 a.m., the area was completely cut off. No mobiles, no phones, no Internet, nothing,” Furaty said.
“But we don’t care. We expect even more protests following evening prayers tonight.”