Syrians warned to end protests despite Assad pledge for reforms

Laura Rozen

Days after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised to implement sweeping reforms--and lift the country's almost 50-year-old emergency law--his security forces marshaled brute force and threats to try to bring an end to protests in Syria's third largest city.

"The warning by the Interior Ministry--forbidding protests 'under any banner whatsoever'--suggested that the government was prepared to escalate a crackdown," even as the Syrian cabinet voted Tuesday to repeal the country's emergency law, which has been in place since 1963, the New York Times reported.

Funeral services were held Tuesday for two people reportedly killed in protests in Homs, near Syria's border with Lebanon.

A video of the funeral was posted to YouTube:

This latest instance of Assad failing to deliver on promises of meaningful reform should not come as a surprise, said David Schenker, a former Syria analyst for the Pentagon, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"On the one side Assad attempts to demonstrate reform to the West, at the same time the regime is actively threatening the people of Syria .... that if [they] continue to protest, then [he] is really going to crack down," Schenker said. "Nobody believes that the regime is willing to commit suicide to end emergency law and really open up the system."

"This is not regime elements going rogue," Schenker continued. "This is the regime making the decision to ruthlessly repress people who have aspirations to end this tyranny."