'Syrian forces arrest scores in Banias, Homs'

Restive cities on Mediterranean coast latest focus of Assad's escalated crackdown against protesters; more than 7,000 believed detained.

Syria Banias Protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syria Banias Protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Syrian security forces arrested scores of people on Monday in two restive cities where President Bashar Assad has sent troops to crush a seven-week-old revolt against his authoritarian rule, a human rights group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said people were detained in the central city of Homs and in Banias on the Mediterranean coast -- the latest focus of Assad's escalated crackdown against protesters, as well as other regions.
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"Across Syria it has continued today, swelling the numbers (of detainees), which are already in the thousands," a spokesman for the group said.
Syria's upheaval began on March 18 when protesters, inspired by revolts across the Arab world, marched in the southern city of Deraa. Assad initially responded with vague promises of reform, and last month lifted a 48-year-old state of emergency.
But when the protests persisted he sent the army to crush public dissent, first in Deraa and then to other cities, making clear he would not risk losing the tight control his family has held over Syria for the past 41 years.
The Syrian Observatory says 621 civilians and 120 soldiers and security personnel have been killed since demonstrations first broke out. Another Syrian rights group, Sawasiah, says more than 800 civilians have been killed.
A Western diplomat last week estimated around 7,000 people had been detained, but the Observatory said another 400 and 500 were taken into custody since then in Banias alone.
A Homs resident said he heard scattered shooting overnight but that the city, where the Syrian Observatory reported three people were killed on Sunday, was quieter on Monday.
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