Syria army attacks Banias, raising sectarian tension Over 800 Dead in Syria so far
Syrian troops and tanks swept into the northern coastal town of Baniyas on Saturday to suppress anti-government demonstrations, tightening the squeeze on a persistent yet largely
leaderless opposition movement that has refused to stop staging protests despite a deadly military crackdown.
Human rights groups said three women were shot dead in a village outside Baniyas when they joined a demonstration to protest the army’s actions, but that otherwise land lines and cellphone services to the town were cut off and no information was emerging about what was happening there.
* Civilian death count passes 800 – activists
* Men, women and teenagers arrested in Marqab-Observatory
* Banias is coastal centre of pro-democracy demonstrations
AMMAN, May 7 (Reuters) – Syrian forces shot dead six civilians in an attack on Sunni districts in the mixed city of Banias on Saturday, rights campaigners said, raising sectarian tension in a country gripped by pro-democracy protests.
Banias has seen some of the most persistent demonstrations since unrest first erupted in the southern city of Deraa seven weeks ago, with activists calling for political freedom and an end to corruption.
Rights group Sawasiah said the number of civilians killed in the violence across the country had reached 800, a figure disputed by the government.
Army units with tanks entered Banias, a Mediterranean coastal city of 50,000 people, from several directions, advancing into Sunni districts but not Alawite neighbourhoods, the human rights campaigners said. Banias is around 70 percent Sunni Muslim and 30 percent Alawite.
Four women were killed(Per Fox network) when soldiers fired at a small all-women protest marching on the main coastal highway from Marqab village near Banias, they added.
“Residents are hearing the sound of shelling and heavy machineguns,” one of the human rights campaigners said.
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London, earlier told Reuters regular and special army units were in the city.
“They are conducting search operation in several areas. The army has lists and is looking for people based on it,” he said.
Most phone and Internet communication with Banias has been cut but the campaigners said they were able to contact several residents.
Sawasiah said the authorities had intensified a clampdown on communication networks to disrupt the flow of information about their “bloody repression of non-violent demonstrators”.
Mobile 3G Internet services by the country’s two operators has been cut in Damascus as well since Friday, Sawasiah said.
Syrian authorities have banned foreign media from reporting from the country.
Syrian forces earlier raided Marqab, arresting scores of men, women and teenagers, the Observatory said.
Civic leaders in Banias denied the accusation and said the government was trying to spread fear among Alawites, who occupy most senior positions in the army and security apparatus.
International criticism has increased against Assad, who is trying to preserve his family’s 41-year-old grip on power in the country of 20 million people.
European Union governments agreed on Friday to impose asset freezes and travel restrictions on up to 14 Syrian officials, alongside other sanctions, in response to Assad’s violent crackdown.
The United States also imposed sanctions against.. Read more…
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was pressing the Syrian government to cease
“violence against innocent citizens who are simply demonstrating and trying to state their aspirations for a more democratic future.”
The bloodshed Friday was the latest spasm in what has become a weekly cycle of mass protests followed by a swift and deadly crackdown. Assad insists the unrest is a foreign conspiracy carried out by “terrorist groups.”