Tank Syria Deraa 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Syrian government ordered more tanks into Deraa on Saturday
and heavy gunfire was heard in the city as security forces tried to
crush a revolt against President Bashar Assad, residents said. Six people were killed in the offensive, the BBC reported.
RELATED:UN rights body condemns Syria, orders probe'At least 62 killed in Syrian pro-democracy protests'
troops and tanks first swept into Deraa on Monday to quell
pro-democracy protests against Assad that have spread across the country
of 20 million, posing the biggest challenge to his rule and prompting
Western powers to impose sanctions.
Deraa, a southern city of 120,000 people, is the cradle of a
six-week-old uprising which started with demands for more freedom and an
end to corruption. It developed into a movement to overthrow Assad
following a violent crackdown by authorities.
Residents said they could hear heavy gunfire, mostly from Deraa's old
quarter, which is situated on a hill near the Jordanian border and is
"Since dawn, we've been hearing a heavy exchange of gunfire that is
echoing across the city and you do not know what's happening," Abu
Tareq, a resident, told Reuters by phone.
"I saw more than 15 tanks that had entered from the Damascus highway heading in the direction of the Old City."
It was not immediately clear whether tanks and mounted armored carriers
were shelling the city or agricultural land near the border.
Another resident, Abu Ahmad, told Reuters he had heard tanks had stormed
areas in the old city, where the Omari Mosque, which has been a focal
point for protests, is located.
"It looks like they [security forces] want to finish their campaign
today. From the new tank deployments, it looks as though they are
intensifying their operations today."
Despite the heavy military deployments and mass arrests, demonstrators
again took to the streets calling for Assad's overthrow on Friday.
Soldiers in Deraa killed 19 people on Friday when they fired on
protesters who were trying to enter the city from nearby villages in a
show of solidarity, a medical source said.
Syrian rights groups put Friday's death toll at 62, pushing the number
of deaths since an uprising that has posed the biggest challenge to the
Assad dynasty's four decades in power, to more than 500.
The crackdown prompted Western powers to take their first concrete steps in punishing Syria for the bloodshed. Washington imposed new sanctions on government figures
, including Assad's brother, who commands the army division which stormed Deraa on Monday.
Assad's cousin, Atif Najib, was also targeted as was Ali Mamluk,
director of general intelligence and Iran's powerful Revolutionary
Guard, accused of helping the Syrian crackdown. Syria has denied Iran
was helping it quell protests.Syria blames armed terrorist groups for unrest
More demonstrations flared on Friday in the central cities of Homs and
Hama, Banias on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishly in the east, Harasta, a
Damascus suburb, and the capital itself.
Syrian rights group Sawasiah said this week at least 500 civilians had
been killed since the unrest broke out. Authorities dispute that, saying
78 security forces and 70 civilians died in violence they blame on
State news agency SANA said on Friday "armed terrorist groups" had
killed eight soldiers near Deraa. It said groups had opened fire on the
homes of soldiers in two towns near Deraa and were repelled by guards.
But a witness in Deraa said Syrian forces fired live rounds at thousands of villagers who descended on the besieged city.
A rights campaigner in Deraa said on Friday makeshift morgues in the
city contained the bodies of 85 people he said had been killed since the
army stormed the city on Monday. Residents say a humanitarian crisis is
The repression has brought condemnation from Western powers which for
several years had sought to engage Damascus and loosen its anti-Israel
alliances with Iran and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.