'Syrian forces deploy in Banias arresting Sunnis'

Protest leader: Assad troops move on city under pro-democracy demonstrators' control; France pushes EU to sanction Assad.

By REUTERS
May 3, 2011 14:31
1 minute read.
A tank keeps watch in Banias, Syria, Monday.

syrian tank_311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

AMMAN - Syrian forces and gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad moved on Tuesday into areas of Banias city center that has been under the control of pro-democracy demonstrators for weeks, a protest leader said.

The coastal city has witnessed some of the most persistent protests challenging Assad's rule.

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"They moved into the main market area. The army has sealed the northern entrance and 'Amn' (security) the south. They armed Alawite villages in the hills overlooking Banias and we are now facing militias from the east," Anas al-Shughri told Reuters.

Shughri said armed plainclothes security men deployed in the market street and began to arrest people according to their family names on identity cards.

"They are targeting Sunnis. I regret to say that the propaganda that Assad is spreading that the Alawites will not survive if he is toppled is receiving an audience among our Alawite neighbors, although the demonstrations have been for freedom and unity, regardless of sect," Shughri said.

Also on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that France wants the European Union to impose sanctions on Syrian leaders including Assad in response to the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests.

"We are trying to act with our European partners," he told reporters. Asked if Assad should be included among targets of sanctions, he said: "That's what France wants."

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