Syria protesters stage nationwide strike

Syria protesters have organized a 'desperate' last act of civil disobedience to try to stop the Assad regime's nine-month crackdown.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA made available Friday, Dec. 9, purports to show smoke enveloping part of the city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, Dec. 8. The reason for the smoke is the subject of various claims at this time. Syrian security forces fired on anti-government demonstrations across the country on Friday, with some of the worst violence reported in Homs, a city in central Syria.

Antigovernment activists in Syria are staging a nationwide workers' strike in an effort to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, even as fighting continues across the country and the key Syrian opposition city of Homs faces a looming invasion.

Al Jazeera English reports that opposition leaders claimed to have used a a massive workers' strike to shut down large portions of the capital and other towns in an effort to continue topple the government crackdown through nonviolent means. 

"This strike is really a desperate action, a desperate cry from the Syrian people, the last civilian action we could do," Ashraf al-Moqdad, a member of the Syrian opposition calling for civil disobedience, told Al Jazeera.

"We've been demonstrating peacefully for nine months. Thousands of us have been murdered by Assad and his thugs. We've been waiting for real concrete action from the international community ... What else can we do?" [said Mr. Moqdad.]

"This is part of our desperate action to get the attention of the international community to look at us. Please look at our situation. We are desperate now."

An AJE correspondent says that there were reports of Syrian troops burning down at least 178 stores and shops in Deraa as punishment for participating in the strike, though central Damascus and Aleppo both appeared calm.

AJE adds that the opposition is also boycotting today's municipal elections Syria, though state news agency SANA claimed that voters had "flocked" to the polls.

Meanwhile, citizens of Homs and human rights observers fear an imminent invasion of the city as the government's deadline for protesters to end their demonstrations looms. On Friday the Assad regime gave protesters 72 hours to end their resistance or else face an attack, reports the Daily Telegraph. But demonstrations continued on Friday, with reports of 10 protesters killed in clashes with state security forces.

Come Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported that Syrian troops continued to dig in around Homs as the deadline grew nearer.  

The Britain-based Observatory also warned that residents fear "a large invasion of the city."

"The arrival of hundreds of armoured vehicles to the city of Homs during the last two weeks estimated, according to witnesses," to number more than 200, the watchdog said in the English-language statement.

Sunday also saw reports of one of the largest battles between government forces and military defectors in southern Syria. Reuters reports that residents of the southern towns of Busra and Lujah said they have seen and heard signs of battle nearby.

The sound of explosions and heavy machineguns was heard [in Busra] and in Lujah, an area of rocky hills north of the town, where defectors from the army have been hiding and attacking military supply lines, residents and activists said.  

"Lujah has been the safest area for defectors to hide because it is difficult for tanks and infantry to infiltrate. The region has caves and secret passageways and extends all the way to Damascus countryside," said an activist, who gave his name as Abu Omar.

Reuters notes that due to Syrian bans on foreign journalists have limited the media's ability to confirm locals' reports.

The violence may also be spilling over into Jordan and Lebanon. CNN reports that a group of Syrian protesters were involved in a skirmish with several members of the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, including the vice ambassador. Both the protesters and the embassy staff say they were attacked by the other. 

And French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said Sunday that France suspected Syria was responsible for a roadside bombing on Friday in southern Lebanon that injured five French UN peacekeepers. "We have strong reason to believe these attacks came from there [Syria]," he told RFI radio. "We think it's most probable, but I don't have proof."

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