Dozens of demonstrators angry over worsening economic conditions in Syria stormed the governor’s office in the southern city of Sweida and set fire to parts of the building amid a heavy exchange of gunfire.
Earlier on Sunday, more than 200 people gathered around the building in the centre of the Druze-majority city, chanting slogans calling for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad as prices surged and economic hardship worsened.
Syrian state media said “outlaws” rushed into the governor’s office and burned files and official papers.
Three witnesses told Reuters news agency the governor was not in the building, which was vacated before protesters burst in.
“The governor’s office was burnt completely from the inside,” said Rayan Maarouf, a civic activist and editor of Suwayda 24, a local website that covers the southern region.
He said several people were wounded by gunfire.
“There was heavy gunfire,” Maarouf said, adding it was not clear where the bullets came from in the heavily policed area.
Witnesses said once inside the building, demonstrators tore down pictures of al-Assad.
Sweida province has been spared the violence seen in other parts of Syria since the start of the 11-year conflict that began after pro-democracy protests against al-Assad’s family rule were violently crushed by security forces.
The minority Druze sect, whose faith draws its roots from Islam, has long resisted being drawn into the Syrian war that pits rebels against al-Assad’s troops.
Many community leaders and top Druze religious leaders have refused to sanction enlistment in the army.
Syria is in the throes of a deep economic crisis where a majority of people struggle to afford food and basic goods.