Assad tightens grip on Syria's restive third city

AMMAN Mon May 9, 2011 5:05pm EDT

1 of 12. Protesters hold a poster reading: ''All cities in Syria are terrorist!???'' during a demonstration after Friday prayers in the Syrian port city of Banias May 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Government forces backed by snipers on rooftops tightened their grip on Syria's third city on Monday, rights groups said, after President Bashar al-Assad sent in tanks in a sharpening crackdown on protests against his rule.

A human rights campaigner in Homs said snipers deployed in several residential neighborhoods as the sound of gunfire died down in districts of the city that tanks stormed on Sunday.

"There are snipers visible on rooftops of private and public building in al-Adawiya, Bab Sebaa and al-Mreijah neighborhoods. Hundreds have fled from three villages just to the southwest of Homs where tanks had deployed," the campaigner said.

Homs, the hometown of Assad's Western-educated wife Asma, lies in the middle of an agricultural region on the highway between Damascus and Syria's second largest city Aleppo. One of Syria's two oil refineries is in Homs.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three civilians were killed on Sunday in Homs, a merchant city of one million people 165 km (100 miles) north of Damascus.

Activists said the authorities had widened a shutdown of Internet and phone services.

Syrian authorities have banned foreign media from reporting from the country.

Security forces dispersed a small pro-democracy demonstration in the center of the Damascus on Monday, arresting opposition writer Ammar Mashour Dayoub and several students, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In the capital's district of Barzeh, 20 people were arrested in another demonstration, a resident of Barzeh said.

In the south, tanks deployed around the towns of Inkhil, Dael and Nawa, widening a sweep into the strategic region that borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A man was killed on Sunday when security forces smashed their way into his home in the town of Tafas, a rights campaigner said.

REGIME BASE

Syria's upheaval began on March 18 when protesters, inspired by revolts across the Arab world, marched in the southern city of Deraa. Assad initially responded with vague promises of reform, and last month lifted a 48-year-old state of emergency.

But when the demonstrations persisted he sent the army to crush dissent, first in Deraa and then in other cities, making clear he would not risk losing the tight control his family has held over Syria for the past 41 years.

Assad is from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, while the majority of Syria's 20 million population is Sunni Muslim.

Alawites dominate Syria's power structure.

Hundreds of people were arrested on Monday in Homs and in Banias on the Mediterranean coast, the latest focus of Assad's escalating military swoop on protesters, as well as in other regions, the Observatory said.

A human rights campaigner said Military Intelligence agents arrested five employees at a state-owned wheat milling company in the mostly Ismaili city of Salamiya east of Hama for refusing to sign declarations promising not to demonstrate.

The Observatory said around 50 people were arrested in Salamiya on Monday, among them 70-year old former political prisoner Hassan Zahra, a leftist.

Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah said security forces have killed at least 800 civilians since demonstrations first broke out. The Syrian Observatory says 634 civilians had died by April 30.

A Western diplomat last week estimated that around 7,000 people had been detained.

Before the uprising, Assad had been emerging from a period of Western isolation imposed because of Syria's support for militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas and its informal anti-Israel alliance with Iran.

Washington announced new sanctions against Syrian figures last month while the European Union last week agreed to impose asset freezes and travel restrictions against up to 14 Syrian officials it said were responsible for the violent repression.

Syrian authorities have blamed the nearly two months of protests on "armed terrorist groups" they say killed civilians and security personnel and are operating in Deraa, Banias, Homs and other parts of the country.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Comments (3)
DEFMD wrote:
[From the article]: “Assad is using Israeli tactics, but will not be able to occupy all of Syria with his loyalists,” he added. –

With ridiculous comments like this,it’s no wonder that the entire Arab wold is an intellectual, political, and economic abyss. Who said anything about the Israelis? What Israeli tactics? The Arab world should try to solve their own (immense) problems and leave Israel out of it.

May 08, 2011 9:49pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
1964 wrote:
DEFMD, The reference to ‘Israeli tactics” refers to Israel’s tactics in Gaza. No cause to be so defensive. That Israel and the US are likely subverting and inciting the masses to desire Assad’s overthrow, is very likely, according to the old and tried doctrine of “Divide and rule”. Especially now that Egypt is seriously preparing for a more open and all inclusive foreign policy, which both Israel and the US want to undermine. While Syria is far away from formulating any new policies – they appear to be mostly occupied with suppressing dissent – Syria will be a flank in the new Egyptian initiative. Provided Syria will democratize to an extent, it will fit in well with this new Middle East.

May 08, 2011 11:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
IndiaNads wrote:
The sequence of the fall would be….. Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Jordan, Syria & Bahrain.

We hope the Saud family is kicked out of the holdy nation and the best people lead the country forward with policies that would uplift the citizens and neighboring countries unlike the present where the Saud’s are slaves to the US and are a shame.

May 09, 2011 8:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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