Syrians raise flag over cradle of revolt
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.