In an effort to contain spreading popular disorders against his regime, Syrian President Bashar Assad Monday, March 21, sent the 4th Armored Division commanded by his younger brother Maher Assad to suppress the three-day uprising in Darra (Deraa), capital of the southern Hauran region, and blockade the adjoining Jabal ad-Duruz where a demonstration is planned for March 26 at As-Suwada.
Earlier, he posted two expanded Syrian army brigades at Darra, where some 20 demonstrators were killed and 300 wounded by tear gas and live bullets.
Damascus confirmed army had been deployed in Darra where five more demonstrators were killed Monday in fresh anti-government unrest after smashing the statue of Hafez Assad, the president's father and predecessor. The demonstrators called on Syrians around the country to join them at a rally to mourn those who died in clashes with police over the past three days.
Assad has thus joined the list of dynastic Arab rulers fighting to retain power in the face of popular revolts.
Sunday, the United States "strongly condemned the violence that took place in Syria and called on the Syrian government to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully. Those responsible for today's violence must be held accountable," said a White House statement.
However, Washington has invested considerable effort into improving relations with Damascus and so, unlike in the case of Libya, the Obama administration has not gone beyond verbal condemnation of Assad's brutal crackdown on dissent. Assad's Baath party and family have ruled Syria for almost half a century under emergency laws dating from 1963, which brook little dissent and no political freedoms.
Poverty-stricken Darra is strategically important because it is situated on the Damascus highway to southern Syria, Jabal ad-Duruz, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.
The regime failed in its effort to open a dialogue with the leaders of the Darra uprising. They refused to meet a large group of prominent Syrians from Hauran clans headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad which arrived Sunday to try and defuse the tension. As soon as they left, Darra townspeople set fire to the Baath Party building, the court and other symbols of Assad domination, igniting other parts of the country.
Monday, March 21, demonstrations spread to the town of Quneitra on the Syrian part of the Golan abutting the part held by Israel.
The 4th Division was then assigned the task of cutting southern Syria off from the rest of the country, separating it as one of three military sectors: Large forces cordoned off Damascus, the capital, which lies 100 kilometers north of Darra; they also blocked routes out of Jabal ad-Duruz, home to nearly a million Syria Druze tribesmen.
The Assads have lived in fear of abiding separatist Druze dissent against Damascus since the Great Druze Revolt of 1925-1927, which spread across Syria.
The Syrian army has also laid to siege border regions on the Syrian Golan, the areas adjoining the Lebanese and Israeli borders and the Yarmuk River crossing into Jordan, lest anti-Asad disturbances spill over between those sectors and spread further.
The regime's contest with the South is therefore in standoff for the moment.
But unrest simmers in Damascus and Aleppo, where the opposition continues its attempts to mount protest demonstrations – so far without success. Sunday's riots in the northern Kurdish towns of Al Qamishli and Al Haskah and also at Deir ez-Zor and Homs have died down for the time being although mass arrests are reported.