AMMAN - Syrian troops and tanks stormed Deraa on Monday, residents said,
seeking to crush resistance in the city where a month-long uprising
against the autocratic 11-year rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad
A witness told Reuters he saw bodies in the street after hundreds of
soldiers in armored vehicles poured into Deraa, a few miles from Syria's
southern border with Jordan which officials said was sealed off on
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Also Monday, Syria closed all its land border crossings with neighboring
Jordan, officials said, following the deployment of Syrian army tanks
in the southern border city of Deraa.
A senior diplomat in the Jordanian capital confirmed that the two main
Syrian crossings at Deraa and Nassib on the Syrian side were closed to
traffic. An official told Reuters the "timing is related to what appears
to be a major security operation that is taking place right now."
A leading Syrian human rights campaigner said security forces, which
also swept into the restive Damascus suburb of Douma, were waging "a
savage war designed to annihilate Syria's democrats".
Rights groups say security forces have killed more than 350 civilians
since unrest broke out in Deraa on March 18. A third of the victims were
shot in the past three days as the scale and breadth of a popular
revolt against Assad grew.
Assad lifted Syria's 48-year state of emergency on Thursday but
activists say the violence the following day, when 100 people were
killed during protests across the country, showed he was not serious
about addressing calls for political freedom.
Monday appeared to be the first time the authorities have sent tanks into population centers since the protests began.
The raids on Deraa and Douma suggested that Assad, who assumed power
when his father died in 2000 after ruling Syria with an iron fist for 30
years, was determined to crush the opposition by force.
The witness in Deraa told Reuters he could see bodies lying in a main
street near the Omari mosque after eight tanks and two armored vehicles
deployed in the old quarter of the city.
"People are taking cover in homes. I could see two bodies near the
mosque and no one was able to go out and drag them away," the witness
Snipers were posted on government buildings, and security forces in army
fatigues had been shooting at random at houses since the tanks moved in
just after dawn prayers.
Tanks at the main entry points to Deraa also shelled targets in the
city, a resident named Mohsen told Al Jazeera, which showed a cloud of
black smoke hanging over buildings. "People can't move from one street
to another because of the shelling."
Two residents told Jazeera they had seen soldiers firing on their own
side, apparently to allow people to drag the wounded from the street.
The reports could not be confirmed.
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. Officials have blamed armed groups for
Syrian writers break the 'barrier of fear'
Western criticism of the crackdown was initially muted, partly because
of fears that a collapse of his minority Alawite rule in the majority
Sunni country might lead to sectarian conflict. But on Friday US
President Barack Obama urged Assad to stop the "outrageous use of
violence to quell protests".
Suhair al-Attasi, a leading Syrian human rights campaigner, said
authorities had launched "a savage war designed to annihilate Syria's
"[Syrian] President Assad's intentions have been clear since he came out
publicly saying he is 'prepared for war'," Atassi said, referring to a
March 31 speech to parliament.
Writers from all Syria's main sects issued a declaration denouncing the
crackdown and urging 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," said
Monday's declaration, signed by 102 writers and journalists, in Syria
and in exile.
As well as the crackdown in Deraa and Douma, activists said troops and
gunmen loyal to Assad had shot dead at least 13 civilians since they
swept into the Mediterranean town of Jabla on Sunday, the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
The forces deployed in the old Sunni quarter of Jabla after a
pro-democracy protest and a warning by the governor of the province
against any public assembly, rights campaigners said.
A wave of arrests since Friday's demonstrations continued on Monday, the
SOHR said, saying more people had been detained in the provinces of
Idlib, Deir al-Zor and Raqqa.
Activists said they feared Assad's forces also were preparing for an
attack on the town of Nawa, north of Deraa, after reports of bulldozers
and military vehicles heading there. Thousands of people called for the
overthrow of Assad on Sunday at a funeral in Nawa for protesters killed
by security forces.
"Long live Syria. Down with Bashar!" mourners chanted at the funeral.
"Leave, leave! The people want the overthrow of the regime."