Syrian protester against flag 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
AMMAN - Syrian troops in armored vehicles poured into the restive town of Deraa overnight and opened fire, residents said on Monday, the latest bloodshed in crackdown on protests that has escalated sharply in recent days.
RELATED:Syrian forces kill 9 civilians, arrest leading AlawiteHuman Rights Watch calls on UN to probe Syria violence
Syrian writers issued a declaration denouncing the crackdown, a sign of outrage surging through the intellectual elite over the violence.
Rights groups say security forces have killed more than 350 civilians since unrest began last month. A third of the victims were killed in the past three days as the scale and breadth of a popular revolt against President Bashar Assad grew.
Residents in Deraa, where the protest movement against Asaad first erupted last month, said hundreds of troops had arrived.
"They were firing. Witnesses have told me that there have been five
deaths so far and houses have become hospitals," a Deraa resident named
Mohsen told Al Jazeera by telephone.
Foreign journalists have mostly been expelled from the country, making
it impossible to verify the situation on the ground. Grisly footage
posted on the Internet by demonstrators in recent days appears to show
troops firing on unarmed crowds.
In some of the latest violence, activists said government troops and
gunmen loyal to Assad shot dead at least nine civilians on Sunday in the
Mediterranean coastal town of Jabla, where troops deployed following a
protest the previous night.
Rights campaigners said they feared Assad's forces were preparing for an
attack on the town of Nawa after reports of bulldozers and military
vehicles heading there. Thousands of people in the town called for the
overthrow of Assad on Sunday at a funeral for protesters killed by
Electricity and communications were cut off in parts of Nawa by the
evening and residents, some armed, erected barriers in the streets in
preparation to defend against attack.
"Long live Syria. Down with Bashar!" mourners chanted during the funeral in Nawa, 25 km (15 miles) north of Deraa.
"Leave, leave! The people want the overthrow of the regime."
In Banias, south of Jabla, protest leaders said they would cut the main
coastal highway unless the siege on Jabla was lifted. Jabla is home to
large numbers of members of Assad's Alawite Shi'ite minority who had
generally stayed away from protests in the past.Breaking the barrier of fear
Monday's declaration was signed by 102 writers and journalists, in Syria
and in exile, representing all the country's main sects, a sign that
shock at the violence is crossing Syria's lines of sectarian division.
It called on Syrian intellectuals "who have not broken the barrier of fear to make a clear stand.
"We condemn the violent, oppressive practices of the Syrian regime
against the protesters and mourn the martyrs of the uprising."
Signatories included Alawite figures such as former political prisoner
Loay Hussein; female writers Samar Yazbek and Hala Mohammad; Souad
Jarrous, correspondent for al-Sharq al-Awsat
pan-Arab daily; writer and former political prisoner Yassin al-Haj Saleh and filmmaker Mohammad Ali al-Attassi.
Mansour al-Ali, a prominent Alawite figure from the city of Homs, was
arrested in his home city after he spoke out against the shooting of
protesters, an activist in Homs said.
At least 100 people were killed across Syria on Friday, the highest toll
of the unrest, when security forces shot protesters demanding political
freedoms and an end to corruption in their country, ruled for 41 years
by the Assad dynasty.
Another 12 people were killed on Saturday at mass funerals for slain
protesters. Rights campaigners said secret police raided homes near
Damascus and in the central city of Homs on Sunday, arresting activists.
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