Syrian troops arrest hundreds of opponents: activists

NEARLY OVER?:As the crackdown continues, the country’s president was quoted as vowing to press ahead with reforms and saying that the crisis was coming to an end

AFP, DAMASCUS

Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 6

Gunfire rang out in a suburb of Damascus yesterday as Syrian troops carried out arrests of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the coastal town of Banias and other protest hubs, activists said.

One activist, declining to be named for security reasons, said that telephone lines to Muadamiya in western Damascus were cut, while a witness said the main road to the Damascus suburb had been sealed off.

The source of the gunfire could not immediately be determined.

Amid sweeping arrests of regime opponents, more than 300 people have been rounded up in Banias, based on house-to-house searches using lists of suspects, according to Syrian human rights groups.

“Banias is cut off from the outside world,” one activist said.

Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said water, electricity and telephone lines have been cut off in Banias, in northwestern Syria on the Mediterranean coast.

The military said on Sunday that six soldiers, including three officers, were killed in clashes as the army pursued “armed terrorist groups” in Homs, Banias and around the southern town of Daraa — three protest hubs.

Tanks rumbled into several districts of the central industrial city of Homs and deployed along the corniche in Banias on Saturday night and Sunday morning, according to activists.

The military cut electricity and communications before entering several Homs districts that are home to opponents of Assad’s regime, an activist said.

Gunfire reverberated in Bab Baba and Sebaa Amr, two districts in the city of 1 million inhabitants that has been the scene of almost daily demonstrations since anti-regime protests in Syria erupted in the middle of March.

Among those arrested in Banias were protest leaders and doctors at a hospital, which was circled by the military, the Syrian Observatory said in a statement on Sunday.

Assad, quoted yesterday in al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government, vowed to press ahead with reforms and forecast the political crisis in Syria was nearing an end.

“The crisis will pass and end, and the question of administrative, political and press reforms will advance,” he was quoted as telling a delegation of residents of Syria’s main port city of Latakia, north of Banias.

He stressed the need “to consolidate national unity because the nation is the mother of all of us and we need to unite in the face of this plot,” referring to Syrian official charges of terrorist gangs and -foreign hands behind the unrest.

A 12-year-old boy was among several people killed in Homs on Sunday as Syrian troops hunted down the president’s opponents, activists said, despite world anger over the bloody crackdown.

A video posted online at YouTube — which could not be authenticated — showed about 20 truckloads of soldiers heading towards a Homs district on Saturday night.

Qassem Zuheir al-Ahmad, 12, was killed by gunfire in the city, where other people also died, said an activist who was unable to specify who shot the boy or give an overall casualty toll.