Syr­i­ans raise flag over cra­dle of re­volt

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD -

BEIRUT — For the first time in more than seven years, the Syr­ian govern­ment raised its flag Thurs­day over Daraa, the first city to re­volt against Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad in 2011 and plunge the coun­try into its calami­tous civil war.

The dis­play is laden with sym­bol­ism as the Syr­ian govern­ment moves to stamp out the last of the up­ris­ing against the 52year-old As­sad, who has ruled with an iron fist over Syria for 18 years.

His fa­ther, Hafez As­sad, was pres­i­dent for three decades be­fore him.

Of­fi­cials ac­com­pa­nied by state me­dia crews hoisted the two-star flag over the rub­ble of the city’s main square, al­low­ing it to wave in sight of the shell of the Omari Mosque where pro­test­ers first gath­ered in demon­stra­tions de­mand­ing re­forms, then As­sad’s ouster in the spring of 2011.

The mosque has since been de­stroyed in the govern­ment’s bru­tal crack- down against the city, which ranged from al­leged tor­tur­ing of dis­si­dents to shelling the city with tanks and planes.

With con­trol over Daraa, govern­ment forces can fo­cus on clear­ing the last pock­ets of the op­po­si­tion and, sep­a­rately, the Is­lamic State group from the fron­tier at the Golan Heights, which Is­rael seized from Syria in a 1967 war.

The cor­ner of south­west Syria is an im­por­tant cor­ri­dor for trade be­tween Syria and Jor­dan, and on­ward to the oil-rich Gulf states.

But most of the im­por­tant fight­ing against the re­volt has al­ready been con­cluded in shat­ter­ing bat­tles far­ther to the north for the main cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs, and ter­ri­to­ries in be­tween.

Some 400,000 peo­ple have been killed in seven years of war.

Protests in Daraa in 2011 against the govern­ment’s mis­treat­ment of teenage de­tainees ig­nited a na­tional re­volt against decades of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule. The Syr­ian govern­ment raised its flag Thurs­day over Daraa, the first city to re­volt against Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

MOHAMAD ABAZEED/GETTY-AFP

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