3 wounded in southern Syria after shots fired at protesters at ruling party's local headquarters

BEIRUT (AP) — Security guards from the Syrian president's Baath party on Wednesday fired shots at protesters trying to raid its local headquarters in southern Syria, wounding at least three people, activists said.

The incident marked a major escalation in anti-government protests over the past month that have otherwise been calm.

Anti-government protests have rocked the Druze-majority Sweida province over the past month. Hundreds continue to gather in demonstrations that were initially driven by the war-torn country's spiraling economy and skyrocketing inflation but quickly shifted focus to calling for the fall of President Bashar Assad's government.

Protesters have raided and closed offices of Assad's Baath party across the province and have torn images of Assad. On September 4, protesters smashed a statue of Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez, as they they marked the 2015 assassination of a prominent anti-government Druze leader. Some of the offices have since reopened.

In video shared by media collective Suwayda 24, dozens of protesters could be seen trying to raid a Baath party office in Sweida city. Some fled as gunshots from the building intensified, while chanting “peaceful protest.” One protester held the multi-colored Druze religion flag.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, protesters and religious figures gathered at the building's courtyard and continued protesting.

Syria's economy has been struggling after years of conflict, corruption and mismanagement, and Western-led sanctions over accusations of government involvement in war crimes and the illicit narcotics trade. The United Nations estimates that about 90% of the population lives in poverty.

Syria's Druze community has mostly isolated itself from the country's uprising-turned-conflict, now in its 13th year.