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Syria assault on Hama signals hardened resolve on both sides

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Since the beginning of the uprising in mid-March, protests have mostly happened on Fridays, the holy day of the week for Muslims and the one time that young men can gather in large numbers in Syria to pray at mosques. Protests begin immediately after prayers conclude, before the security forces can disperse the crowds. However, during Ramadan – the most significant event in the Islamic calendar and referred to as the holy month – mosque attendance is a daily obligation, suggesting that the demonstrations could be held each day.

The opposition protesters have shown extraordinary endurance in repeatedly taking to the streets in the face of heavily armed security forces. Up to 1,500 civilians have died so far, many thousands have been wounded, and some 10,000 have been detained. Maintaining protests on a daily basis will require considerable fortitude, especially given the Muslim requirement to fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Due to the mid-summer heat and long daylight hours, most protests are more likely to occur in the evenings after the fast-breaking meal known as iftar.

But the Assad regime, which has also sustained losses – albeit roughly a tenth of those of the protesters – also faces a difficult challenge in the month ahead. A surge in opposition casualties during Ramadan will assuredly intensify anger on the streets, draw stronger criticism from overseas, and place even greater pressure on the already over-stretched security forces.

Of critical importance, analysts say, is whether residents of the two largest cities in Syria – Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo in the north – finally join the protest movement in large numbers. Both cities have seen some antiregime demonstrations, but have not crossed the threshold into outright rebellion as some smaller cities around Syria have.

“The frequency of protests certainly is important [but more important] is which towns decide to join,” says Mr. Salem. “If Aleppo and Damascus decide to join, then it's all over. If they don’t join, then the regime survives. It doesn’t matter so much if Hama goes from three protests to nine protests, it’s still Hama.”

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