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Middle east

Noose tightened on restive areas, rights groups say

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-18

Syrian security forces clamped down on flashpoint cities, including the coastal city of Banias, according to Syrian human rights groups even as six prominent opposition figures were released on Monday and Tuesday.

AFP - Syrian forces tightened the noose Tuesday on key protest hubs, including flashpoint Banias, sealing off neighbourhoods and arresting leaders of the anti-regime dissent movement, activists said.

A pro-regime newspaper said the army had restored "calm" in Banias, while an adviser to President Bashar al-Assad told The New York Times she believes the regime has ridden out the worst of the uprising.
EU sanctions against the Assad's regime took effect Tuesday with the president spared but his younger brother heading a list of 13 officials facing penalties for their involvement in the brutal crackdown.
Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said EU sanctions could be extended "including at the highest level of leadership" unless Damascus heeds calls to end the heavy-handed repression.
Three days after storming Banias, troops backed by tanks and security forces were still rounding up protesters on Tuesday, tracking down mainly the leaders of the dissent movement, rights activists said.
"The army controls all the neighbourhoods of Banias, and arrests are still underway there and in the neighbouring villages of Baida and Marqab," said Rami Abdul Rahman, of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Troops are hunting down "leaders of the protest movement," he told AFP by telephone.
On Monday, troops went house to house in Banias with lists of names, rounding up thousands of men and moving them to a municipal stadium to be questioned, activists said.
Most were released but more than 450 people are still being held in Banias, where tanks rolled in on Saturday to crush anti-regime protests, according to the Syrian Observatory.
Security forces also rounded up regime opponents at dawn Tuesday in the key Mediterranean port of Latakia, in Damascus governorate and in Idlib, northwest of the capital, another activist said.
Vans packed with people arrested by the security forces were seen Tuesday morning in Muadamiya, which has also been raided by the army, an activist said.
"Muadamiya is isolated from the outside world," he added. "Security controls are spreading all across Syria."
"A security agent is posted outside each building and tanks are deployed at the entrance to Muadamiya," the activist said.
In the northern, mostly Kurdish regions of Qamishli, Derbassiye and Amuda residents were summoned by the security forces and told to sign statements pledging not to take part in demonstrations, said activist Radif Mustafa.
The pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper said troops restored "calm" in Banias and that Muadamiya was also under control after "the army entered the area to round up and arrest men terrifying local residents."
"The military operation in Banias led to the dismantling of a central operations cell with computers, Thuraya satellite telephones and sophisticated cameras used by armed elements" to fuel chaos, said Al-Watan.
Elite army units, naval ships and electronic-jamming units took part in the operation, the report said.
The army did not suffer any losses, Al-Watan said, while adding that 26 armed men had been arrested, among them the leaders of a group operating in Homs, Syria's third-largest city.
Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to the Syrian president, told The New York Times she believes the worst was over.
"I hope we are witnessing the end of the story," said Shaaban. "I think now we've passed the most dangerous moment. I hope so; I think so."
For almost two months, near-daily protests have railed against Assad's  regime, while troops and security forces have repressed the uprising brutally, especially in Banias, Homs and the southern province of Daraa.
Between 600 and 700 people have been killed and at least 8,000 arrested since the start of the protest movement in mid-March, rights groups say.
But six prominent opposition figures were freed Monday and Tuesday. These included Habib Saleh, who served three years in jail after being convicted of "spreading lies" that undermine the nation, activists said.
Saleh was arrested in 2008 after publishing an article calling for political reforms. The other five released had been rounded up during the crackdown on protests.
The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page, which has been a motor of the protests, called for "a Tuesday of solidarity with prisoners of conscience held in the jails of the criminal Syrian regime."
"Demonstrations will continue every day."
The European Union has responded to the crackdown by imposing sanctions on 13 top officials.
Maher al-Assad, the president's 43-year-old brother, heads the list. He commands the Republican Guard and the army's feared Fourth Armoured Division.
Others targeted include Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar and Intelligence chief Ali Mamluk.
The EU sanctions include visa bans and an assets freeze, while the 27-nation bloc also imposed an arms embargo and a ban on equipment that can be used for internal repression.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also cautioned Syria.
"If Damascus continues its crackdown, we will step up the pressure and we will tighten the sanctions."
The United States has warned it would take "additional steps" against Syria if it continues the deadly crackdown.
Dozens of people rallied outside the French and EU missions in Damascus to "denounce EU interference," state news agency SANA reported, adding that "Syria will remain steadfast against interference in its affairs."


Date created : 2011-05-10


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