April 12, 2011 / 1:05 PM / 8 years ago

Syrian forces storm town after protests: activists

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian security forces stormed on Tuesday a town near the flashpoint coastal city of Banias and the sound of gunfire was heard, rights activists in contact with people in the town said.

They said Syrian secret police and soldiers were surrounding the town of Baida, 10 km (six miles) south of Banias. People from the town took part in a protest in Banias on Saturday where they carried empty white coffins in sympathy with an estimated 200 people killed in pro-democracy protests in Syria.

One activist said that some residents of Baida, which is near the Mediterranean coast, had weapons and it appeared that an armed confrontation erupted.

“Ambulances are trying to get into Baida. There are wounded,” the activist said.

A resident of Banias who had been in touch with people in Baida said mobile phone connections were cut, a regular tactic of Syrian security forces before going into urban areas.

Armored vehicles entered Baida and soldiers “opened fire haphazardly,” the Banias resident said, adding that young men were being dragged out of their homes and arrested.

Syrian security forces have deployed more heavily in coastal areas following pro-democracy protests and killings by irregulars loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, known as ‘al-shabbiha’, in the city of Banias on Sunday.

The Banias resident said he was told shabbiha gangs were also taking part in the attack on Baida.

Rights activists said four people were killed on Sunday in Banias, a mostly Sunni Muslim city with a significant population of Alawites, the same sect as Assad. Authorities said an armed group had ambushed a patrol near Banias, killing nine soldiers.

Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Jon Boyle

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