Activists are all too aware of dangers that lie ahead

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The Independent Online

Houssam and his friends gathered around his laptop in a living room in Qaboun, a suburb of eastern Damascus.

"Come! Come and see this," he said, playing a video which showed a group of Shabiha militia men at one end of a rubble-strewn street. One of the gunmen starts walking towards the tiny camera, which has been positioned on the floor. Eventually he gets so close that the brand of his left boot is clearly visible – yet the gunmen still fails to notice he is being filmed. Houssam and his friends fell into a fit of hysterics. "He is the dumbest person in the world!" he cried out.

Moments like these provide a little levity for activists in Qaboun, where at least 25 protesters have been shot dead since the uprising began. Yet Houssam, a student in his 20s, knows that what he and his friends are up against is anything but funny. In addition to the 25 dead in Qaboun, at least 1,500 people have been arrested since July, say activists. Only 100 of them have returned.

"Before this revolution started I had never heard a gunshot," said Houssam, an activist in a group calling itself the Syrian Revolution Co-ordinators' Union (SRCU).

Protesters here are under no illusions about what they are up against. Houssam is pessimistic. "Even if we reach the centre [of Damascus] we cannot make the regime fall," he said.

Their problems were illustrated when the SRCU tried to organise a demonstration outside a mosque in Qaboun on Thursday. At the last minute it was cancelled, courtesy of the plain-clothed secret policemen lurking in the street outside.

The problem is simple, according to another activist, Basel. It is the fear. "The people in Damascus are scared," he said. "If there is a demonstration with more than 100 protesters the government will open fire."

Basel helps organise marches in the capital, but most consist of no more than a few dozen people and are broken up in minutes. It is hardly the kind of protest movement which will threaten the Baathist regime's hold on power. Yet despite the apparently insurmountable obstacles, protesters in the capital remain optimistic.

"We have shown people Bashar al-Assad's true face," said Houssam. "He is a murderer. We know he will fall. But we don't know how."