Syria bread protest Banias 311 R.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Syrian forces stormed three neighborhoods in the central city of Homs and tanks
swept into several southern towns on Sunday, in a campaign to crush an uprising
against autocratic Ba’athist rule.
In the first incursion into
residential areas in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city with 1 million people,
machine gun fire and shelling was heard across the city, residents told
Syrian army attacks Banias, raising sectarian tension
'Forces fire at protesters as unrest spreads in Syria'
At least one civilian, a 12- year-old child, was killed when
tanks and troops charged into the Bab Sebaa, Bab Amro and Tal al-Sour districts
of Homs overnight, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human
“The areas have been under total siege since
yesterday. There is a total blackout on the numbers of dead and injured,
Telecommunications and electricity are repeatedly being cut with the districts,”
the observatory said in a statement.
A human rights campaigner in Homs
said by telephone, “There are reports of [more] deaths, but they cannot be
confirmed. I cannot get out of my house. Security forces are everywhere.”
A human rights group said security forces have killed at
least 800 civilians in the seven-week-old uprising. Until the uprising began in
mid-March, Assad – from the minority heterodox Alawite sect – had been emerging
from Western isolation after defying the United States over Iraq and reinforcing
ties with Iran to the concern of Syrian Sunnis.
Prof. John Myhill of the
University of Haifa said foreign media tend to miss the religious undertones of
the Syria uprising.
“Religion is a very, very large part of it,” he
“In the coastal areas where Alawites are the majority, the army is
simply arming Alawites who aren’t even in the military. They’re giving
them weapons and saying, ‘Go out and kill Sunnis.’ The Sunnis can’t be missing
“The government is not going to give up, no matter what. It’ll hold
on no matter what, far longer than Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, because it’s not
just the Assad family [at risk]. If the regime falls, there’s going to be
genocide against the Alawites,” said Myhill, an expert on the intersection of
religion and politics and author of the monograph “Language, Religion and
Emerging Nationalisms in the Arab World.”
“It’s going to be like Iraq,
except they’re outnumbered six to 1, and no one is going to be able to help them
except maybe Hezbollah. People from the outside don’t evidently realize this,”
“It’s clear this isn’t fun and games, or just camping out in the
square as it was in Egypt. This is a matter of life and death.”
Sunday, tanks moved into the towns of Tafas, Dael and Ibtaa in the Hauran Plain.
Residents said they heard gunfire and that army forces broke into houses to
The three towns have a combined population of around
The army intensified its presence across the Hauran
region, having partly pulled out of Deraa last week and redeployed in nearby
rural towns, witnesses said.
“We knew they would not forgive us for our
solidarity with Deraa. They are also targeting Tafas because it is harboring
lots of the youths who escaped the attack on Deraa,” one of the residents of
Tens of thousands of villagers from the Hauran region
converged on Tafas on Friday and chanted slogans demanding Assad’s
Prevented from entering Deraa, still encircled by tanks after
nearly two weeks, they staged one of the largest demonstrations in Hauran,
despite the heavy security presence in the plain, witnesses said.
Banias on the Mediterranean coast, where human rights campaigners said Syrian
forces shot dead six civilians in an attack on Sunni districts on Saturday, mass
arrests continued, rights activists said.
The Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights said at least 200 more people have been arrested in Banias by
soldiers in raids on houses in the city, including a 10- year-old
A Western diplomat has said 7,000 people in all had been arrested
in security sweeps since mid- March.
The United States, reacting to the
death of 27 protesters on Friday, threatened to take new steps against Syria’s
Alawite rulers. Washington imposed more targeted sanctions on Syrian officials
but excluded President Bashar Assad himself.
The European Union later
imposed similar sanctions.