The report, released on July 13, said the main protest day was Friday
after mosque prayers. Nearly 100 protests were said to take place every
Friday, with the lion's share proceeding without incident.
"Many demonstrations now go unhindered every weekend," the report,
titled "The Syrian Regime's Slow-motion Suicide," said. "On any given
Friday, there are 80 demonstrations that go well and two where everything
goes wrong. It looks like they shoot when shot at, when provocations occur
or when party buildings are destroyed."
Western diplomats in Damascus have confirmed the report. They said Assad
has quietly shifted his initial policy of crushing demonstrations to one
that distinguishes between peaceful and violent protest.
About 2,200 civilians have been killed by the Assad regime since the
revolt began in March 2011. The regime, blaming foreign-backed Islamic
insurgents, has claimed about 500 casualties among army and security forces.
A senior Syrian official was quoted as acknowledging the new policy to
permit protests although authorities continued to deploy huge forces. The
unnamed official said security forces have orders not to shoot unless they
are clearly threatened.
"Part of the explanation is a measure of on-the-ground learning by the
security services, which initially didn't have a clue about how to deal with
such protests," the official was quoted as saying. "Besides, they now have
clear orders not to shoot other than in legitimate self-defense."
Not all diplomats agreed that Assad changed his zero-tolerance policy
toward protests. Some of the diplomats, pointing to the assault on Hama,
Homs and Latakia, assessed that the reduction in casualties in ratio to
demonstrations stemmed from the increasing strain on the military and
"I see no particular improvement on the part of the security services,"
a Western diplomat in Damascus said. "They are increasingly overstretched
and, insofar as they are more focused on specific areas, tend to be laxer
A leading U.S. analyst on Syria said Assad's security forces have
reduced casualties through the use of snipers and enhanced reconnaissance.
Gary Gambill, editor of the Middle East Forum, said Assad's forces was
targeting suspected organizers and those who film protests with their
"Regime snipers carefully selected their targets on the basis of
specific criteria — filming demonstrations with cell phones, using
megaphones, carrying banners — designed to incapacitate mid-level
organizers," Gambill said.