When U.S. ambassador Robert Ford visited the opposition stronghold of Hama last week, enraging the Syrian regime and its supporters, he spoke of meeting peaceful protesters and seeing no sign of the "armed gangs" the government so often cites in justifying its crackdown. Today The Economist furnishes us with what appears to be its own firsthand account of Hama from an anonymous writer--no small feat considering that foreign journalists in Syria are largely confined to Damascus. The author paints a vivid picture of a city that is at once "defiant and fearful."
Boys with wooden sticks man makeshift checkpoints. Burned-out government cars, rubbish bins, gates, piles of bricks and street-lamps unscrewed at the base and carefully laid across the road have been used to create blockades to prevent the security forces from re-entering the city. Even satellite dishes, with the name of Al-Dounia, a pro-regime channel, scribbled over with Al-Jazeera, have been used. The streets are eerily quiet; shop shutters are locked and the roads are almost empty of cars. No sign of the Assad regime remains. Pictures of the president, Bashar Assad, have been torn down and a plinth where a statue of his father, Hafez, once towers stands empty. Outside the city, the government's forces wait.
The Economist's description matches footage highlighted today by Dubai-based journalist Jenan Moussa allegedly showing a desolate Hama:
VBS journalist Alexander Christie-Miller, meanwhile, has filed an equally gripping report on another critical aspect of the Syrian uprising: the Syrian refugee situation in Turkey. The 14-minute clip below is well worth watching in full, but here are some of the highlights:
- Syrian children in a Turkish refugee camp chant the now-familiar slogan, "The people want to topple the regime." (0:40-0:55)
- Christie-Miller has someone sneak a camera into a refugee camp and interview a Syrian woman, who recounts how the Syrian regime's "thugs" are "doing horrible things to people." (1:45-2:30)
- Smugglers help Christie-Miller cross the border to refugee camps in Syria on a wooded, mountainous trail. (6:35-7:00)
- Refugees on the Syrian side of the border chant slogans and spit and throw shoes at a television image of President Assad. One army defector explains his disgust at the regime's crackdown and claims that Iranian snipers fired at peaceful protesters and security forces who refused to shoot the demonstrators. (7:50-10:30)
These aren't the only accounts from journalists secretly moving about in Syria. In late June, the BBC's Sue Lloyd-Roberts filed two reports on the country's underground network of anti-government activists after entering Damascus by posing as a tourist with a small camera. She noted what it was like to report without permission from Syrian authorities:
If I booked into a hotel, I was told I would be followed. My contacts took me to an empty flat in a suburb of the city. To accommodate a journalist at home would put them in jail, they explained. I had to lock the doors and keep the blinds drawn. I have to sit here in hiding for hours at a time waiting to get a message from one of the activists I'm working with here to tell me when it's safe enough to go into Damascus to meet with them. It is a frustrating way to report on the uprising here in Syria, but not as difficult as it is for those who are trying to bring about change in this country.