Together, the two cities — Syria’s fourth and fifth largest — have been the most defiant in a five-month uprising against four decades of rule by the Assad family. After a week of strong rebukes by a chorus of international voices, from the United Nations to the pope, the renewed assault confirmed what many saw as the determination of President Bashar al-Assad’s government to keep power through violence.
By the count of some human rights groups, more than 2,000 people have been killed in the crackdown so far.
Other signs of pressure on the government have emerged, perhaps most importantly indications that the business elite in Damascus has begun preparing for the government’s fall. That elite has long proved one of the most important pillars of the Syrian leadership, notably during the Islamist revolt in 1982.
“The regime is its own worst enemy, and it can’t be saved from itself,” said a Damascus-based analyst who asked to remain anonymous. “It is ripe for collapse, but the question remains what will trigger it and when.”
Residents put the death toll in Deir al-Zour at 42, and one of them said a family of six trying to escape — a couple with four children — was among the dead. Activists said that many residents had left in recent days. A local man who gave his name as Maamoun said that pickup trucks packed with as many as 25 women and children each were fleeing down abandoned streets.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which is comprised of several Middle Eastern countries, issued a statement denouncing Assad's crackdown. Assad's propagandists have responded by claiming that the GCC isn't in possession of the facts and circumstances of the opposition violence against the regime. The death toll tells a different tale.
Fact is that despite whatever reforms Assad has offered up, his security apparatus has accelerated its crackdown against the opposition. It has no problem murdering civilians by the score in launching artillery strikes against cities such as Hama or military operations against other cities that have witnessed protests condemning Assad's brutality elsewhere in the country.
Where protests were once focused on trying to improve the economic and political conditions in the country, they've morphed into protests seeking Assad's removal because of the ongoing brutalization of the Syrian people.
It's gotten to the point where even the Turkish government is issuing warnings to Assad to cease and desist from its crackdown because the Turks will join with international efforts to impose sanctions or other actions.
At the same time, the Saudis and Kuwaiti governments have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus over the ongoing violence. The Saudis had no problem assisting Bahrain in putting down its own protests, but the bloodshed in Syria seems to be too much for even the Saudi regime.