World and Nation

Protests erupt in Syria over bombings that killed children

By Anne Barnard and Mohammad Ghannam

BEIRUT — Protesters in the western Syrian city of Homs on Thursday demanded the ouster of the provincial governor and posted images of their demonstrations on social media — just as in the early days of the Syrian upheaval in 2011, before protests and crackdowns turned to war.

But this time, the demonstrators were supporters of the government, angry that security forces did not prevent a double bombing of an elementary school Wednesday that killed several dozen children in the Akrama district.

“The people want the fall of the governor,” chanted a crowd, shown in a video that appeared to include at least several hundred people gathered near the gates of Homs University.

It was among numerous photographs and videos of the protests and funeral processions posted on Facebook pages that have long presented Syria’s violence from a pro-government perspective.

The video, stamped with an image of Hafez Assad, the father and predecessor of President Bashar Assad, showed the kind of scene rarely witnessed nowadays in government-held cities like Homs, where peaceful opposition protest has long been crushed.

The protesters adopted the same slogan — even the same intonation — that was heard from larger crowds in the spring of 2011.

Back then, protests in Homs began with the relatively modest demand to remove the then-governor, Iyad Ghazal, who was disliked for reputed corruption and unpopular urban renewal plans. Security forces fired on demonstrators, and while Ghazal was eventually replaced, the protesters’ demands quickly mushroomed to include the removal of the president.

The Old City of Homs, its heart, ended up a war zone, with mostly local insurgents besieged there under government bombardment. Government-held neighborhoods came under sniper fire from the Old City and car bomb attacks from insurgents elsewhere, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

But even in that context, Wednesday’s attack was horrific. Reports of the death toll varied from 27 to 47, but they agreed the dead were mostly children.

Hours after the Homs bombings, the Homs News Network, called on residents to keep their children home from school until the removal of the current governor, Talal al-Barazi.

One post on Thursday called him “the terrorists’ friend;” another pictured him with one of the occasional food deliveries allowed into to Al Waer, the city’s only remaining insurgent-held district, amid fitful cease-fire talks.