Clashes break out in Daraa after regime snatches teenage girl
(Avaaz) Clashes with rebel fighters broke out today in Mahatta district after regime army troops and security forces tried to forcibly end a general strike which was protesting the arrest of 16-year-old schoolgirl Rita Jahamani.
FSA fighters stormed Saraya police station, captured a member of the security forces and raised the Syrian independence flag on top of the building. Activist Omar Horani from Daraa told Avaaz: “Clashes started at 10am and lasted for an hour. As security and military reinforcements arrived, the FSA retreated from Saraya but kept their hostage in a bid to leverage the releasing of Rita Jahamani.”
A policeman in Saraya was wounded by a rebel gunman and later died as he tried to escape the building in civilian clothes. Sporadic shooting and smaller scale clashes continued throughout the day, activists said.
The 16 year-old Rita Jahamani was arrested in Mahatta by security forces on Monday on her way home from school. Avaaz spoke with Ayman Jahamani, Rita’s uncle, from Jordan.
He said: “Three days ago while Rita was returning from school in the afternoon, she was arrested at Al-Dahia checkpoint. An officer from political security called Rita’s father and told him that they would release Rita if her brother, a defector who joined the FSA, turned himself in. Rita’s brother will not do this as the regime cannot be trusted.”
Mr. Jahamani Rita’s family were unable to visit her, fearing arrest themselves. Activists have reported a growing number of people being arrested while visiting detainees.
The FSA in Daraa issued a statement this morning warning that if Rita was not released within 24 hours, the FSA would target all government security buildings in Daraa, in particular the political security branch, where Rita is thought to be held.
Mr. Jahamani said: “Our honor, especially our women’s honor, is a red line. This incident will have very bad consequences. Women and children should not be involved in matters they have nothing to do with. If the girl is not released, horrible things might happen. Her brother is ready and willing to carry out a suicidal act in any army or security centre.”
Activist Omar said: “Negotiations are being carried out indirectly with civilians who are on good terms with the regime.”
The UN monitors visited Daraa city and Mahatta district shortly after the clashes today. The residents told them about Rita’s arrest, with the monitors responding by promising to report the situation to NGOs.
Later this afternoon, regime tanks entered Daraa and snipers scattered across rooftops of tall buildings. An eyewitness from the district told Avaaz: “We do not know what is going on – we are hiding in our houses because the snipers are shooting anyone they see. We still hear gunfire without knowing the reason for it.”