Security forces shot dead a protester Sunday in Syria’s southern city of Sweida as hundreds held a rare demonstration against deteriorating living conditions, a war monitor and a local news outlet said.
Tensions were high in the regime-held city after some protesters threw rocks at a government building and stormed it, taking down a large picture of President Bashar al-Assad from its facade, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“At least one protester was killed” when security forces opened fire after protesters entered the building, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Rayan Maarouf, an activist from local news outlet Suwayda24, confirmed the death and said four others were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds in the Druze-majority city.
Suwayda24 posted images on social media that showed protesters chanting slogans calling for the fall of the regime as security forces stood guard outside the building.
Other images showed a military vehicle on fire and burning tyres on main streets of the city. Gunshots could be heard in some of the footage.
State television said “lawbreakers” had stormed the provincial government building and “set fire to official documents and files”, without immediately providing further information.
Syria’s economy has been pummelled by both its long-running civil war and Western sanctions against Damascus, and the value of the local currency has plummeted.
Ninety percent of the population now lives below the poverty line and 12.4 million people are food insecure, according to the United Nations.
Sweida and other cities around the country have been hit hard by nationwide electricity rationing and chronic fuel shortages that severely hamper daily life.
The government in recent days announced further austerity measures to deal with the problems, including more electricity rationing.
In February, hundreds took to the streets in Sweida to demand better living conditions and democratic rule, the Observatory said at the time.
Smaller protests over similar issues were held in Sweida in 2020.
Syria’s civil war, which has killed nearly half a million people since it began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, has fragmented the country and caused economic collapse.
The Sweida region south of Damascus is the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, who made up less than three percent of Syria’s pre-war population and have largely kept out of the country’s civil war.