One person killed at anti-government protest in Syria’s Sweida province

The 52-year-old becomes the first person to be killed by pro-government forces since the protests began in August.

People gather to protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad
People gather to protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Sweida, Syria [Suwayda 24/Handout via Reuters]

At least one person has died of gunshot wounds sustained in an anti-government protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the southern province of Sweida, according to local news outlets and monitoring groups.

Suwayda24, a local news website run by citizen journalists, reported on Wednesday that a 52-year-old man succumbed to his wounds after security forces guarding a government building shot at nearby protesters.

The local news outlet added that the spiritual head of the Druze sect, Sheikh Hikmat Al-Hijri, met with protesters and said the man was a “martyr”.

A local media source and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed the fatality.

SOHR said dozens of people were chanting anti-government slogans in front of a recently reopened state office building that deals with citizen affairs, such as outstanding military service.

People gather to protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad
People gather to protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Sweida, Syria [Suwayda 24/Handout via Reuters]

“Pro-government forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, wounding two protesters, one of whom later died,” said the Britain-based monitor.

According to the SOHR and Suwayda24, local religious authorities urged all sides to “keep the demonstrations peaceful”.

The death of the 52-year-old was the first one reported that was linked to the demonstrations that swept across Druze-majority Sweida last year due to harsh economic conditions and rising inflation levels that saw the end of fuel subsidies, as well as latent anti-Assad sentiment.

In August, high petrol prices initially sparked massive protests across the province, which had primarily been spared the violence that ravaged much of Syria when al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters sparked a full-blown war in 2011 and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and the displacement of millions of others.

The protesters in Sweida quickly turned their criticism to al-Assad and have demanded political changes.

Across the province, scores of local branches of the ruling Baath party were forced shut by protesters tearing down posters of the president and his father in a rare show of defiance.

The Syrian government continues to attack opposition-controlled areas in northwest Syria, with the backing of Russia and Iran.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies