On 28 January 2011, a Syrian called Hasan Ali Akleh set himself alight in protest against the Assad regime in imitation of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia. Akleh’s act went largely unremarked, but on 17 February tradesmen at Hareeqa in Damascus responded to police brutality by gathering in their thousands to chant “The Syrian people won’t be humiliated”. This was unprecedented. Soon afterwards, the Deraa schoolboys were arrested and tortured for writing anti-regime graffiti. When their relatives protested on 18 March, and at least four were killed, the spiralling cycle of funerals, protests and gunfire was unleashed.
Residents arrive on foot to inspect their homes in the Wadi Al-Sayeh district at the al-Khalidiyeh area in Homs. Photograph: Omar Sanadiki/Reuters Robin Yassin-Kassab British-Syrian writer.