Damascus was alive with rumors Thursday, April 14 that President Bashar Assad and his family were preparing to flee to Saudi Arabia. They were, sparked by the discovery that several high-ranking Syrian officials and army officers were evacuating their families from the capital to Persian Gulf emirates.Tens of thousands of people hit the street yesterday as another round of protests rocked Damascus.
US intelligence officials also disclosed that Iran was secretly helping Assad crack down on his own people, providing gear to suppress crowds and assistance in blocking and monitoring protesters' Internet and cell phones.
Those officials did not refer to the Iran-backed Hizballah's active aid in the government crackdown. However, as the anti-government demonstrations pervade dozens of Syrian towns, even the second largest Aleppo, Assad is relying for survival less on the army and police and increasingly on the 10,000-strong armed Shabbiha gangs drawn from the Assad tribe of the minority Alawite community and trained in urban combat by Hizballah and Iran. In normal times, the Shabbiha are regularly employed by the Iran-Hizballah arms and drug smuggling rings.
Reporting from Beirut— Antigovernment demonstrations sweeping Syria appeared to have crossed a threshold in size and scope, with protesters battling police near the heart of the capital and the protest movement uniting people from different regions, classes and religious backgrounds against the regime. Tens of thousands of people turned out across the country Friday, dismissing minor concessions offered a day earlier by President Bashar Assad. The demonstrators called for freedom, the release of political prisoners and, in some instances, the downfall of the government, echoing demands for change across the Arab world.
[...]But it was the spread of large-scale protests into new corners of Damascus, the capital, and Assad's seat of power, that underscored the growing depth of the protest movement.