Tank Syria Deraa 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Security forces have moved into central Syria and coastal areas before Friday prayers in a test of will for demonstrators determined to maintain protests against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
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In a show of force, tanks have taken up positions near the urban centers of Homs, Rastan and Banias in the past two days.
The Syrian activists were preparing to take to the streets in what they were calling a "day of defiance," the BBC reported.
Last week, Assad ordered the army into Deraa, cradle of the uprising that began with demands for greater freedom and an end to corruption and is now pressing for his removal.
An ultra-loyalist division led by his brother Maher shelled and machine-gunned Deraa's old quarter on Saturday, residents said. Syrian authorities said on Thursday the army had begun to leave Deraa, but residents described a city still under siege.
Troops were also deployed in the Damascus suburbs of Erbin, Saqba, Douma and in the town of Tel, north of the capital.
A senior diplomat said demonstrations after Friday prayers, the only chance Syrians have to gather legally, were expected to increase "incrementally, not massively" in numbers compared with a week ago when tens of thousands took to the streets.
Human rights campaigners say security forces killed at least 62 civilians, including 17 in Rastan alone, during those protests.
A doctor who planned to take part in Friday's demonstrations said: "Indiscriminate killings and inhumane arrests have generated total disgust among the average Syrian."
"Soldiers with rifles no longer deter people. The propaganda that this regime is the only guarantor of stability no longer washes," he said.
The United States, which had joined a European drive to improve ties with Assad under the Obama administration, called the attack on Deraa "barbaric."