Mass arrests, battles seen across Syria

May 9, 2011 at 1:00 PM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, May 9 (UPI) -- Syrian authorities rounded up dissidents Monday and intense gunfire broke out in a Damascus suburb in a "very worrying" escalation, an activist said.

Black smoke billowed over Muadhamiya, and electricity and telephone lines were cut at dawn, the BBC reported.

Soldiers and tanks filled the main streets and surrounded mosques, and snipers were poised atop tall buildings, opposition Web sites said.

Activist Wissam Tarif told The New York Times his human rights group, Insan, has documented at least 14 deaths and 750 arrests since the latest crackdown began Friday.

"This is a campaign that's going to more cities," Tarif said. "It's escalating, and it's very worrying because they're also getting better at isolating these places."

"They tried to rebuild the wall of fear and they failed," he added. "So next, they will move to completely cut communications all over the country."

In the coastal city of Baniyas, more than 300 people were arrested Monday, including women and children, and gunfire was heard throughout the day, Tarif said. Phones, electricity and water have been cut off since Saturday.

The pro-government al-Baath newspaper said Monday the Baniyas attack would "end within a few hours" and "cautious calm" had been restored.

The numbers of dead, injured and arrested are difficult to confirm because the Syrian government has barred foreign journalists and the lack of communications.

The troop deployment, stretching from the Mediterranean coast to southern Syria, is the latest turn in the seven-week uprising against the 11-year rule of President Bashar Assad.

Obama administration officials have said Iran, which faced similar protests in 2009, provided the Syrian government with supplies such as tear gas and equipment that could disrupt activists' phones, the Times said.

"The only country they can trust to back them to the end is Iran," a longtime ally of Syria, an analyst said.

Fighting also was reported in Homs, Syria's third-largest city, which tanks entered Friday. Videos smuggled from Homs showed crowds of people fleeing gunfire, but the Times said the videos' authenticity could not be verified.

Tarif said the military also entered Tafas in southern Syria.

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