By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press May 9, 2011
BEIRUT – Syrian security forces arrested hundreds of activists and
anti-government protesters in house-to-house raids across the country
Monday, part of an escalating government crackdown aimed at stamping out a
revolt engulfing the country.
The government's punishing response triggered new international sanctions
Monday, as the European Union imposed an arms embargo. The measure, which
followed U.S. sanctions, also prohibits 13 Syrian government officials
from traveling anywhere in the 27-nation EU and freezes their assets.
President Bashar Assad has dispatched army troops and tanks to crush the
seven-week uprising that has posed the most serious challenge to his
family's 40-year rule. Assad's regime appears determined to crush the
uprising by force and intimidation, despite the rapidly growing
international outrage and a death toll that has topped 630 civilians since
the unrest began, according to rights groups.
Monday's arrests, which zeroed in on the protests' organizers and
participants, were focused in four areas — the central city of Homs, the
coastal city of Banias, some suburbs of the capital Damascus and villages
around the southern flashpoint city of Daraa, said Rami Abdul-Rahman,
director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He and other activists said the crackle of gunfire could be heard in the
Damascus suburb of Maadamiyeh.
Activists said security forces redeployed in the town Monday after a brief
withdrawal the day before, closing all roads leading in.
The area, scene of large demonstrations in past weeks, was without
electricity, communication or water, the activists said on condition of
anonymity for fear of reprisal. Residents also reported house-to-house
raids and arrests and said several tanks were stationed in the town.
By early afternoon, scores of women were demonstrating in Banias,
demanding the release of hundreds of detained men who were being held at
the city's soccer stadium, Abdul-Rahman said. He added that security
officers promised the women that all men over the age of 40 would be
Click image to see photos of protests in Syria
In an indication that the regime shows no sign of folding, Assad was
quoted as saying in comments published Monday that "the current crisis in
Syria will be overcome and that the process of administrative, political
and media reforms are continuing." The report, in the private daily
Al-Watan, which is close to the government, did not elaborate but said
Assad made the comments while receiving a local delegation Sunday.
The European Union said Monday it was banning the shipment to Syria of
"arms and equipment that could be used for internal repression."
In an attempt to increase the pressure on Assad's regime, the United
States has also imposed sanctions. Those penalties target three senior
Syrian officials as well as Syria's intelligence agency and the
Revolutionary Guard in Iran, a key Syrian ally.
Abdul-Rahman said that more than 250 people had been arrests in Banias,
which home to one of Syria's two oil refineries. Special forces backed by
tanks entered the city Saturday.
Among those arrested was a leading organizer of the demonstrations, along
with his father and three brothers. Security forces also detained Firas
Khaddam, nephew of former Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who has been
living in exile since he left Syria in 2005 and called for the overthrow
of the regime, Abdul-Rahman said.
Meanwhile, the Al Baath newspaper of Syria's ruling Baath party said
"cautious calm" has been restored to Banias. It said the showdown in the
city "will end within a few hours." The Al-Watan newspaper said Banias has
been under the full control of the Syrian army after "fierce" battles with
"armed terrorist" groups. It said the groups used heavy weapons and mortar
Syrian officials and state-run media have tried to portray Banias as a
hotbed of Islamic extremists to justify the crackdown there. The state
news agency SANA said the army and security forces were pursuing fugitives
in Banias and were able to arrest a large number of them and confiscate
SANA released photos showing displays of weapons it said were seized,
including shotguns, assault rifles, ammunition, clubs, knives and
There has been no independent confirmation that protesters have armed
themselves or opened fire on security forces.
A resident who fled Banias two days ago told The Associated Press Monday
that among those detained were mosque imams, the head of the municipality
and members of leading families in the city such as Khaddam, al-Masri and
Sahyouni. He spoke condition of anonymity for fear of government
Monday's raids come a day after army backed by tanks moved into different
areas in the country including the central city of Homs, Syria's largest,
and three villages near Daraa.
The unrest gripping Syria was triggered by the arrests of teenagers caught
scrawling anti-government graffiti on walls in Daraa, a southern city near
the border with Jordan. Despite boasts by Assad that his nation was immune
from the kind of uprisings sweeping the Arab world, protests against his
rule quickly spread across the country of 23 million people.
Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has blamed "armed
thugs" and foreigners. The regime has hit back at protesters with
large-scale military operations, including an 11-day siege in Daraa that
killed about 50 residents.
Syria has also banned foreign media and restricted access for reporters to
many parts of the country, making it difficult to independently confirm
witness accounts of the violence.