BEIRUT: Dozens of Lebanese and Syrian activists rallied in the Beirut district of Hamra Monday in honor of protesters killed in demonstrations in Syria, while less than two blocks away, demonstrators chanted slogans supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
After receiving reports that simultaneous pro- and anti-Syrian regime rallies were planned for Hamra, the Lebanese Army deployed next to the country’s Central Bank to keep the opposing groups separate, preventing potential clashes.
“This is a moment of true reconciliation between the Lebanese and Syrian people, who have both been harmed by the Assad regime’s oppression,” a Lebanese activist, Carmen, told the Daily Star.
The anti-Syrian regime gathering, organized through a Facebook page called “Silent stand to honor the martyrs of Syria,” was the largest gathering held in Beirut in solidarity with the Syrian demonstrators since the start of popular protests there in March. Similar to the previous gatherings, however, Monday’s demonstration was countered by an opposing pro-Syrian regime gathering.
Carmen, who declined to give her last name, said that the demonstrators in Syria are being targeted in the same way that the Lebanese were targeted by members of Syrian intelligence almost six years ago.
When asked about those protesting in support of Assad’s regime, an activist standing next to Carmen said that it is “sad that Syrian laborers are being abused by elements of the Syrian regime in Lebanon.”
Since the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria, the Syrian security forces have carried out a crackdown on anti-regime protesters, bringing the death toll to nearly 1,000, according to human rights groups.
However, according to Haitham Dirani, Lebanese Baath Party official at the pro-regime rally, the crackdown by the Syrian security forces is necessary to protect Syria from foreign-backed attempts at a revolution. “Syrians are not demonstrating in Syria … those are armed gangs who want to incite strife in Syria and target President Assad,” Dirani added.
Surrounded by a crowd of Syrian workers, Dirani told The Daily Star that they had gathered to prevent any anti-regime demonstrations in Hamra.
“We are here to ban any wrong opinions, which could harm the Syrian-Lebanese relations,” said Dirani.
But anti-regime activists denied that a rally in solidarity with the Syrian people would harm bilateral relations between the two countries. “No movement or rally can harm bilateral relations more than the harm caused by the Syrian regime,” said journalist Wajih Ajouz. According to Ajouz, it is a duty for all Lebanese to stand in solidarity with the Syrian people in times of crisis. “We are here to stand by the people in Syria who are being subjected to oppression and murder,” 23-year-old Ajouz added.
Activist and promotion producer, Panos Aprahamian, agreed with Ajouz and said that relations between the two countries “are pretty harmed already.”
“All parties in Lebanon who brag about liberty and freedom should take a stand against the crimes being perpetrated in Syria,” said Aprahamian.
As the Lebanese Army remained vigilant during both camps’ rallies, pro-regime demonstrators held posters of Assad, as activists on the other side raised banners that read “Freedom will come despite the ongoing massacre.”
Most of the pro-regime demonstrators were Syrian, but some Syrians joined the Lebanese activists in their rally Monday. “We’ve come here to thank Lebanese for their stance in solidarity with the Syrian people,” said Kadar Piry, a Syrian Kurdish activist from Qamishli in northeastern Syria.
After three months of constant protests in Syria, Piry called on the Syrian people to remain peaceful and continue their rightful demonstrations across the country.
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)