Syria continues armed campaign on Homs, five killed

Rights campaigners say major Syrian city is "shaking with explosions"; Syrian news agency says one soldier killed in clashes.

Syria Banias Protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syria Banias Protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - At least five people were killed in a military operation in Syria's third city Homs on Wednesday, human rights campaigner Najati Tayara said.
Speaking from Homs, Tayara said the National Hospital in the city received at least five bodies after tanks shelled the Bab al-Amro district early in the morning. The official Syrian news agency said one soldier was killed "during the pursuit of armed terrorist gangs" in Bab Amro.
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On Tuesday, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces killed three anti-government protesters in southern Syria on Tuesday night, activists told AP.
Assad initially responded to the unrest, the most serious challenge to his 11-year grip on power, with promises of reform. He granted citizenship to stateless Kurds and last month lifted a 48-year state of emergency.
But he also sent the army to crush dissent, in Deraa where demonstrations first erupted on March 18 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.
Security forces have released 300 people detained in Banias and restored basic services in the coastal city stormed by tanks last week, a human rights group said.
Water, telecommunications and electricity had been restored, but tanks remained in major streets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday. Two hundred people, including pro-democracy protest leaders were still in jail, it said.
"Scores of those released were severely beaten and subjected to insults. A tank deployed in the square where demonstrations were being held," Observatory director Rami Abdelrahman said.
Human rights campaigners said at least six civilians, including four women, where killed in raids on Sunni neighborhoods and in an attack on an all-women demonstration just outside Banias on Saturday.
Demonstrators in Banias had raised posters of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has had close ties to Assad, but disputed the official Syrian account of the violence.
Erdogan said more than 1,000 civilians had died and he did not want to see a repeat of the 1982 Hama violence or the 1988 gassing of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja, when 5,000 people died.
Officials have blamed most of the violence on "armed terrorist groups", backed by Islamists and foreign agitators, and say about 100 soldiers and police have been killed.
In southern Syria, four civilians in the southern town of Tafas were killed as security forces widened a campaign of arrests, a human rights campaigner in the region said, adding 300 people had been detained since tanks entered Tafas on Saturday.