Leading activist seized in Syrian roundup

AMMAN Mon May 2, 2011 3:18pm EDT

1 of 5. EDITOR'S NOTE: PICTURE TAKEN ON GUIDED GOVERNMENT TOUR A supporter of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad holds aloft a photograph of the president at Hamidiya market in Damascus April 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Security forces on Monday rounded up hundreds of pro-democracy sympathizers, including prominent human rights campaigner Diana for the second time during Syria's uprising, witnesses said.

The arrests came in the wake of the shelling of Deraa, cradle of the unrest, by a force led by President Bashar al-Assad's feared brother Maher.

"I am Dana Jawabra from Deraa," Jawabra shouted as she was forced into a white Kia secret police car outside her home in the Mezza West District of Damascus.

The 39-year-old engineer was arrested on March 16 while taking part in a silent protest in Damascus to demand the release of thousands of political prisoners in Syria.

Among them were 15 schoolchildren who had been detained in Deraa for writing freedom slogans on walls, inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

The arrests of Jawabra and others were a major cause of the eruption of pro-democracy demonstrations in the southern city.

She was released on March 27 as President Bashar al-Assad made vague promises for reform that failed to stop mass demonstrations from spreading to other parts across Syria.

In the old quarter of Deraa, shelled and machinegunned into submission on Saturday, security forces forced their way into houses on Sunday and took away many men under 40, witnesses told Reuters by telephone.

At least 560 civilians have been killed by Assad's security forces since the Deraa uprising erupted on March 18, human rights groups say.

The government, condemned by the West for their repression of unrest, has blamed the violence on "armed terrorist groups." The country of 20 million people has been under authoritarian Baath Party rule since 1963.

ALL-WOMEN PROTESTS

Security police dispersed an all-women protest at Arnos square in Damascus on Monday. Another all-women demonstration took place in Kharbet Ghazal village, 14 km (eight miles) east of Deraa.

In the central city of Homs, thousands marched on Sunday chanting "down with the regime!"

In Rastan to the north, a funeral was held for 17 men killed when military intelligence agents fired at a protest on Friday during which the names were read out of 50 people who said they were resigning their membership of Assad's Baath Party.

Two thousand Kurds in the village of Karbawi near the eastern city of Qamishli attended the funeral of 20-year-old conscript Ahmad Fanar Mustafa on Sunday. His father accused security forces of killing him for refusing to take part in the repression.

Fanar Mustafa refused to let the governor of the province attend the funeral of his son. "They kill and then they want to march in the funeral of the murdered," the father was quoted as saying by a witness at the funeral.

Human rights campaigners said arrests continued across then country on Monday in an attempt to quell the six-week-old revolt. Among them were scores of men arrested in the northwestern province of Idlib on Monday.

"They have lists and they are going into houses looking for people. These are arbitrary arrests, it is happening without a warrant. We do not know what their charges are. Nobody knows," prominent Syrian human rights campaigner Ammar Qurabi told Reuters from Cairo.

Prominent rights campaigners were also arrested in the eastern cities of Qamishli and Raqqa and in suburbs of Damascus, along with scores of ordinary Syrians active in the mass protests demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption.

Qurabi said security forces had arrested writer Omar Khoush upon his return from Ankara.

Sunni Muslim Turkey has strongly backed Assad, who is from Syria's Alawite minority, in the last several years. But diplomats said Turkish officials were showing signs of weariness with Assad's reaction to the demonstrations and the killing of mostly Sunni Muslim protesters.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Mariam Karouny in Beirut; editing by Andrew Roche)

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