Syria sends more troops to besieged southern city

2011-04-30 12:05

Beirut – Military reinforcements poured into the besieged southern Syrian town of Daraa today, a day after President Bashar Assad unleashed deadly force to crush a month-old revolt, killing at least 65 people.

A Deraa resident said that he saw early in the morning four tanks, 20 armoured personnel carriers and a military ambulance rumble into Daraa, which is at the heart of a six-week-old uprising against the government.

Daraa has been under siege since Monday when the government first sent in squadrons of tanks to crush the daily demonstrations.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said 65 people were killed yesterday in Syria, 36 of whom died in the Daraa province, 27 in the central Homs region, one in Latakia and another in the Damascus countryside.

He said the total deaths since the uprising began reached 535.

The latest deaths come as the United States slapped three top officials in Assad’s regime – including his brother – with sanctions and nations agreed to launch a UN-led investigation of Syria’s crackdown.

A devastating picture is emerging of Daraa – which has been without electricity, water and telephones since Monday – as residents flee across the border. The uprising began in Daraa in mid-March, sparked by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.

The Daraa witness said sounds of sporadic gunfire were heard in the city today, mainly from the city centre area.

“It’s getting harder and harder to know what’s happening. I can’t go outside. If I put my foot outside, they will shoot me,” the witness said. He added that snipers are shooting at people from high buildings.

He said that since Monday, troops have been allowing women to leave their homes to buy bread but today they had prevented them doing so.
The witness account could not be independently verified.

He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

Large demonstrations were reported yesterday in the capital of Damascus, the central city of Homs, the coastal cities of Banias and Latakia, the northern cities of Raqqa and Hama, and the north-eastern town of Qamishli, near the Turkish border.

Yesterday Syrian TV said military and police forces came under attack by “armed terrorists” in Daraa and Homs, killing four soldiers and three police officers.

Two soldiers were captured, the report said. The station also said one of its cameramen was injured in Latakia by an armed gang.

The Obama administration hit three top Syrian officials as well as Syria’s intelligence agency and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard with sanctions over the crackdown.

Meanwhile, diplomats say the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency is setting the stage for potential UN Security Council action on Syria as it prepares a report assessing that a Syrian target bombed by Israeli warplanes in 2007 was likely a secretly built nuclear reactor meant to produce plutonium.

Also yesterday, nations agreed to launch a UN-led investigation of Syria’s crackdown, demanding that Damascus halt the violence, release political prisoners and lift media restrictions.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council said it would ask the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a mission to investigate “all alleged violations of international human rights law and to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated”.

UN officials said the killings may include crimes against humanity. 

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