Syria, residents and antigovernment activists said, with enormous protests in two of the country’s five largest cities suggesting a growing momentum that the government of President Bashar al-Assad seemed at a loss to stanch.
Though the death toll was lower than in past weeks — five, by the activists’ count — the scenes in Hama, in central Syria, and Deir al-Zour, in a drought-stricken region in the east, showed the tenacity of the protest movement, which, after four months, can claim wide popular support for an uprising against Mr. Assad’s leadership.
The government’s response seemed to hint at its priorities. Protests were unhindered in Hama and Deir al-Zour. Hama, the scene of one of the modern Middle East’s bloodiest episodes a generation ago, has claimed a measure of independence after security forces withdrew last month. Deir al-Zour, knitted by the loyalties of extended clans, seems too combustible for the government to use repression.
But the government deployed its forces heavily in cities that seemed crucial to its continuity: Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two largest cities, and Homs, where a Sunni Muslim majority co-exists with Alawites, members of a minority heterodox Muslim sect, from which the government draws strength.