Syrian forces storm Sunni town after protest say activists (Reuters)


President Hafez al-Asad with his family in the...

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Syrian security forces stormed a town near the city of Banias on Tuesday, activists said, in a further move to quell unrest that has spread across the country, challenging the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Assad has faced down the mass protests, now in their fourth week, with force, pledges for reform and attempts to appease minority Kurds and conservative Sunnis. But the unprecedented calls for more freedoms have yet to abate.

The activists said Syrian secret police and soldiers had surrounded the town of Baida, 10 km (six miles) south of Banias, which security forces had sealed off on Sunday after pro-democracy protests and an attack by irregular forces loyal to Assad on people guarding a Sunni mosque.

Four people were killed in shootings later in the day, which has raised tensions in the mostly Sunni Muslim country ruled by minority Alawites, adherents to an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

One activist said some residents of Baida, which is near the Mediterranean coast, had weapons and it appeared that an armed confrontation had erupted.

A Banias resident who had been in touch with people in Baida said armored vehicles entered the town and soldiers “opened fire haphazardly,” adding that young men were being dragged out of their homes and arrested.

DEATH TOLL REACHES 200

Syria’s main human rights movement said the death toll from pro-democracy protests reached 200 and urged the Arab League to impose sanctions on the ruling hierarchy.

Syria is the latest Arab country shaken by mass uprisings against authoritarian rulers, but the scale of protests have not yet reached levels seen in Tunisia and Egypt where leaders were ultimately overthrown. Central Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s second city, have not witnessed mass demonstrations.

“Syria’s uprising is screaming with 200 martyrs, hundreds of injured and a similar number of arrests,” the Damascus Declaration group said in a letter sent on Monday to the secretary general of the Arab League.

The Damascus Declaration is named after a document signed in 2005 by prominent civic, Islamist and liberal leaders calling for the end of 41 years of Assad family rule and its replacement with a democratic system.

“The regime unleashes its forces to besiege cities and terrorize civilians, while protesters across Syria thunder with the same chant ‘peaceful peaceful’,” it added.

“We ask you to … impose political, diplomatic and economic sanctions on the Syrian regime, which continues to be the faithful guardian of Hafez al-Assad‘s legacy,” the letter said, referring to the iron-fisted rule of the president’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000 after 30 years in power.

“RESPONDING WITH REPRESSION”

Authorities blame “armed groups” and “infiltrators” for the violence, in which they said soldiers and police have also been killed. On Tuesday, state news agency SANA named six security service personnel it said had been killed and 168 wounded in Deraa, suburbs of Damascus, Homs and Latakia.

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