AMMAN - Syrian troops raided houses in a Sunni district of the besieged port of Latakia on Wednesday, residents said, arresting hundreds of people and taking them to a stadium after a four-day tank assault to crush protests against President Bashar Assad.
Assad forces attacked al-Raml al-Filistini (Palestinian sand), named after a refugee camp built in the 1950s, at the weekend, as part of a campaign to crush a five-month uprising, which has intensified against major urban centers of protest since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Aug. 1.
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This comes after United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said in a statement to Reuters that the UN's 26 non-essential international staff members and their families had left Syria.
Williams also said he was "very concerned" at the situation in Latakia, where activists say 36 people have been killed in a military assault which was launched against parts of the coastal city on Saturday.
Latakia is of particular significance to Assad, from Syria's minority
Alawite community. The 45-year-old president, a self-declared champion
of the Palestinian cause, comes from a village to the southeast, where
his father is buried. The Assad family, along with friends, control the
city's port and its finances.
"Shelling and the sound of tank machine guns subdued today. They are
busing hundreds to the Sports City from al-Raml. People who are picked
up randomly from elsewhere in Latakia are also being take there," said a
resident, referring to a complex that was venue for the Mediterranean
Games in the 1980s.
"Tanks are continuing to deploy, they are now in the main Thawra
(revolution) street," said the resident, a university student who did
not want to be identified.
"The reports about detention conditions and torture are increasingly
alarming. Assad is backing himself more into a corner by using more and
more violence and turning more Syrians against him," a diplomat in the
Syrian capital said.
Citing witnesses in Latakia, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
said a force of around 700 security personnel fanned across al-Raml,
with houses being demolished in the neighborhood "on the pretext they
lacked construction permits".
"The Sports City's stadiums are serving to house refugees and prevent
them from fleeing outside Latakia, and as we have seen in other cities
that were assaulted, as a detention center," Observatory Director Rami
Abdelrahman told Reuters.
A Palestinian official described the military offensive in Latakia as "a
crime against humanity", adding to Arab and international outrage at
Assad's crackdown on popular demonstrations calling for an end to his