Syrian troops storm Deraa
Damascus, April 25, 2011
Syrian troops in tanks and armoured vehicles poured into the southern town Deraa and opened fire on Monday, residents said, in the latest bloodshed in a crackdown on protests.
As the army tried to regain control of Deraa, where a month-long uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad erupted last month, campaigners said forces also stormed the Damascus suburb of Douma, which has seen large anti-Assad protests.
Rights groups say security forces have killed more than 350 civilians since unrest began. 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's raids on Deraa and Douma appeared to show 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 with force. Residents in Deraa said hundreds of troops had arrived.
One witness told Reuters he could see bodies lying in a main street near the Omari mosque after eight tanks and two armoured 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 said.
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.
"They were firing. Witnesses have told me that there have been five deaths so far and houses have become hospitals," another Deraa resident named Mohsen told Al Jazeera, which showed what appeared to be a cloud of black smoke over the town.
Tanks at the main entry points of the city were also shelling targets in Deraa, Mohsen said. "People can't move from one street to another because of the shelling."
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 the violence.
Despite deepening his father Hafez Al-Assad's alliance with Iran, clawing back influence in Lebanon and backing militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, Assad has kept Syria's front line with Israel quiet and held indirect peace talks with the Jewish state. - Reuters