Syrian security forces storm towns, witnesses say - KMOV.com

Syrian security forces storm towns, witnesses say

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A Syrian protester shouts slogans during a protest to express solidarity with Syrian people and calling for President Bashar Assad to step down, in front of Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, Sunday April, 24, 2011.(AP Photo/ Nader Daoud) By Nader Daoud A Syrian protester shouts slogans during a protest to express solidarity with Syrian people and calling for President Bashar Assad to step down, in front of Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, Sunday April, 24, 2011.(AP Photo/ Nader Daoud) By Nader Daoud
A Syrian protester symbolically steps on a picture of the Syrian president Bashar Assad during a protest to express solidarity with Syrian people in front of Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, April 24, 2011.(AP Photo/ Nader Daoud) By Nader Daoud A Syrian protester symbolically steps on a picture of the Syrian president Bashar Assad during a protest to express solidarity with Syrian people in front of Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, April 24, 2011.(AP Photo/ Nader Daoud) By Nader Daoud

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian troops in armored vehicles and tanks stormed the southern town of Daraa early Monday and opened fire, the latest crackdown on a five-week uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime, witnesses and activists sa

Daraa has become an epicenter of the protest movement, which kicked off in the town more than a month ago after authorities arrested a group of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall. Since then, more than 300 people have been killed across the country as the anti-government demonstrations have swelled. 

Activists on social media posted footage of what they said were troops firing early Monday throughout Daraa. The sound of heavy gunfire punctuates the footage, as well as the labored, frightened breathing of the activist filming the footage. The activist repeats the date, the location and says: "The army forces are entering Daraa. They are shelling the city of Daraa." 

Also Monday, witnesses said Syrian security forces were opening fire in the suburbs of Damascus.  

There was no immediate word on casualties, and telephone lines in Daraa appeared to have been cut.  

The video could not be independently verified and all witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began, making it nearly impossible to get independent assessments of the situation on the ground.  

But the rising level of violence in Syria -- more than 120 people have been killed since Friday -- brought calls from the watchdog group Human Rights Watch for a U.N. inquiry. 

  Syrian security forces have detained dozens of opposition activists since Saturday as authorities turned to pinpoint raids to quell the revolt.  

The strategy, described by a rights activist, appeared aimed at rattling the opposition's leadership and showing that the state's ability to conduct sweeping arrests has not changed despite abolishing nearly 50-year-old emergency laws last week.  

The raids were concentrated around the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs, a hotbed of demonstrations against Assad's authoritarian rule, said Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.  

"These people are not being arrested in a legal way. They are being kidnapped," Qurabi said, claiming the plainclothes security agents did not have formal arrest warrants.  

Qurabi did not have full figures for those detained, but said at least 20 people were arrested in Homs.  

A resident in the Damascus suburb of Douma said at least five people were taken into custody and authorities cut Internet and telephone lines.  

Assad has blamed most of the unrest on a "foreign conspiracy" and armed thugs trying to sow sectarian strife. The state-run news agency SANA said 286 police officers have been wounded since the uprising began. It did not give further details.  

But possible cracks could be emerging from within.  

Two members stepped down from the provincial council in the southern region of Daraa, which has the highest death toll in the country. The resignations came a day after two lawmakers and a religious leader from Daraa also turned their backs on Assad in disgust over the killings.  

Such internal rifts have added resonance since nearly all opposition figures have been either jailed or exiled during the 40-year dynasty of the Assad family.

Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid in Cairo contributed to this report.  

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)
 

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