1 of 5 | Syrian women a demonstrate during a protest calling for President Bashar Assad to step down in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, April 17, 2011. The demonstrations come despite promises by Assad to end the widely despised state of emergency rule by next week at the latest, and implement other reforms following more than a month of unprecedented, and growing, demonstrations. UPI | License Photo
DAMASCUS, Syria, April 26 (UPI) -- A day after the U.S. government urged its citizens to leave Syria immediately, hundreds of anti-government protesters have been arrested, officials said.
Some 500 people were detained across the country, Euronews reported Tuesday.
The New York based Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations to investigate the Syrian government's crackdown on protesters. Amnesty International estimates some 400 people have been killed by Syrian security forces since the protests began some five weeks ago.
The Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar said Tuesday some 160 people were killed by Syrian government forces in demonstrations throughout the country between Friday and Monday.
Condemning the Syrian government's "brutal reaction to its people's demand for change," Amnesty International said sources told the human rights organization Syrian army tanks were deployed in Daraa on Monday and shelled civilian buildings. Protesters estimated at least 25 people were killed.
Abdullah Abazid, an activist in the town, told al-Arabiya some soldiers had deserted their units after refusing to open fire on civilians, The National reported.
"By resorting to the use of artillery against its own people today, the Syrian government has shown its determination to crush the peaceful protests at virtually any cost, whatever the price in Syrians' lives," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director.
Late Monday, the U.S. State Department told U.S. citizens to leave Syria as soon as possible and ordered non-essential U.S. Embassy personnel in Damascus to evacuate.
"The Department of State has ordered all eligible family members of U.S. government employees as well as certain non-emergency personnel to depart Syria," the State Department said in a statement.
"Embassy operations will continue to the extent possible under the constraints of an evolving security situation," it said. "Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in Syria are advised to limit non-essential travel within the country."
The U.S. Administration plans to impose new sanctions on senior Syrian government officials, an-Nahar said, reporting the sanctions would focus on six senior Syrian military and security personnel.
They include Maher Assad, the brother of President Bashar Assad who is director of intelligence, Vice President Hafez Makhlouf, Abdel Fattah, chairman of the Military Intelligence; his deputy Ali Younis and Jamil Hassan head of the country's Air Force Intelligence branch, the newspaper said.
Syrian government sources called reports published by media outlets on events in the country "ridiculous" al-Watan said Tuesday. "It is unfortunate or ridiculous what was published by these agencies, quoting eye witnesses, and this novel is promoted to justify the heavy shooting on military units acting as a shield, by armed groups," one source said.
"The state cannot accept the presence of militants in Syria, who kill and destroy and burn and stir up strife between people and families, it is clear defiance of the state and all the Syrian people … " an unnamed source told the paper.
Syria has closed its border crossings with Jordan near the town of Jaber and near Daraa because of the internal strife, the Jordanian news agency Petra reported.