BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two high ranking Syrian security officials have been fired in what residents and a rights group say is a response to protests by government loyalists angered by the death of 41 children in a bombing in Homs city.
Official concessions to popular demands are rare in Syria. But many loyalists are starting to feel abandoned by the government for whom they have sacrificed much to defend since President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011 led to an armed uprising and civil war.
In the days after a double suicide bombing on Oct. 1 at a school in the heavily guarded loyalist neighborhood of Akramah, residents demanded the resignation of top security officials and criticised state run media for not acknowledging the high number of dead and missing among loyalists in other recent attacks.
Head of Security Committee Major General Ahmad Jamil and head of Military Intelligence Abdulkarim Saloum were removed from their posts this week without official explanation.
Their departure may mark the start of several personnel changes, suggested Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organization that tracks events in Syria.
“They were fired in response to pressure from the loyalist community, who have been accusing the government of reckless disregard for their lives,” he said.
“The authorities are further considering the removal of the Governor of Homs and (the high profile) head of media, Luna al Shibl.”
Though rare for them to voice public anger, loyalists have done so increasingly since August, when the government lost the Tabqa air base to Islamic State militants in Raqqa province. Soldier’s families said more than a hundred of their kin were left to die without attempts to save or resupply them.
A video posted by Islamic State showed the bodies of dozens of men, presumed to have been captured Syrian soldiers, lying face down wearing nothing but their underwear.
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the video, but the Observatory confirmed the death of at least 120. Many loyalists also identified their loved ones among the footage of the naked men, as they were being marched by militants to their death.
State run television ignored the video and denied there were any deaths.
The school bombing in Akramah this month - which was not claimed - forced people to speak up, said one resident.
“People cannot tolerate such behavior at all any more because now we’re talking about spilling the blood of children,” said a local from Homs who belongs to the minority Shi‘ite sect.
Speaking to Reuters by Internet on condition of anonymity, he said his distant relative, a nine-year old boy, was killed in the school blast.
Editing by Sophie Walker