Protests in Syria Continue

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Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. The revolutions that started to sweep the Arab world early this year caught up to Syria in March. Protesters poured onto the streets to demand the resignation of the president, Bashar al-Assad. But the uprising in Syria became more dangerous than its predecessors in Tunisia and Egypt. Syrian security forces have assaulted the demonstrators and laid siege to entire cities.[gun fire sounds] This is purportedly gunfire sound from the besieged city of Hama. It's from an amateur video that was posted today on the internet; the video could not be independently verified. [gun fire sounds] Friday has become the main day for protests in Syria, despite the near certainty that troops will respond with deadly force. The BBC's Lina Sinjab is in Damascus. Lina, there are reports that tens of thousands of Syrians have been out on the streets protesting today. What can you tell us about what's happening?

Lina Sinjab: Well, this is what's happening, but these days the protesters are taking to the streets and they're only calling for their own freedom, but they are going out in solidarity with beseiged cities, like Deir al-Zour, and Homs, and mainly t he city of Hama, that has been besieged and under shelling by the army for five days in a row since Sunday, where many people, tens of people are believed to have been killed.

Mullins: The city of Hama itself as you mentioned, the place where government tanks have rolled into the streets earlier in the week, how are you getting information from Hama? Because reportedly the internet, and electricity and phone services have all been cut off.

Sinjab: Well, the first couple of days some of the activists had satellite phones on t hem that we would be able to call them and contact them, and get the news from them to describe to us what's happening on the ground. But since two days ago even the satellite phones have been completely cut off, and the only news we're getting is the news we're getting from people who are managing to flee the city and come to Damascus or other cities where we can establish contact with them. Having said that, many families who tried to flee the city were also shot at, and at least we know that one family has been completely killed by the army while they were trying to flee the city of Hama.

Mullins: What other information are you getting from those who do flee successfully?

Sinjab: Well, the stories they're telling are really horrible stories. The military is shelling indiscriminately and lots of people have been killed. And the worst thing is that they're targeting hospitals because they don't want anyone to get any treatment. And protesters believe that they're trying to attack hospitals because they don't want any calculations of the casualties. And so after Sunday where activists told us that at least 140 were killed in one single day it's been hard for activists to calculate the numbers of the casualties.

Mullins: Lina, the government itself when it moves troops and tanks into certain areas, how is it deciding what areas it wants to overtake?

Sinjab: Well, the government has always been claiming that they're only interfering because there are armed gangs, which these families and residents and the human rights activists are completely denying these allegations. And Hama was one of the cities that witnessed the largest protests across the country, where 500,000 are believed to have taken to the streets on a Friday. This is because Hama as seen by the authorities as gaining power and this is something that the government would not allow; they would want to keep control of the city.

Mullins: Is there any way to verify that those who are fighting against the government are otherwise peaceful citizens versus militants who are fighting not on behalf of the people?

Sinjab: We have followed the situation since day one of the protests and it's also that these protesters have been going out completely peacefully, but then later situations we've heard that people managed to use their own live weapons or create their own weapons like handmade mortars just to defend themselves against this heavy artillery that the Syrian security and the army is using against these residents and protesters who are actually unarmed, but they're just using in very limited cases live weapons to defend themselves.

Mullins: All right, speaking to us from Damascus, Syria, the BBC's Lina Sinjab, thank you.

Sinjab: You're welcome.