Syrian security forces arrested hundreds of activists and anti-government protesters in house-to-house raids across the country on Monday, part of an escalating government crackdown aimed at stamping out a revolt engulfing the country.
President Bashar Assad has dispatched army troops and tanks to crush the seven-week uprising that has posed the most serious challenge to his family's 40-year rule. Assad's regime appears determined to crush the uprising by force and intimidation, despite rapidly growing international outrage and a death toll that has topped 630 civilians since the unrest began, according to rights groups.
Monday's arrests, which zeroed in on the protests' organisers and participants, were focused in four areas the central city of Homs, the coastal city of Banias, some suburbs of the capital Damascus and villages around the southern flashpoint city of Daraa, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He and other activists said the crackle of gunfire could be heard in the Damascus suburb of Maadamiyeh.
Activists said security forces redeployed in the town on Monday after a brief withdrawal the day before, closing all roads leading in.
The area, scene of large demonstrations in past weeks, was without electricity, communication or water, the activists said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Residents also reported house-to-house raids and arrests and said several tanks were stationed in the town.
By early afternoon, scores of women were demonstrating in Banias, demanding the release of hundreds of detained men who were being held at the city's soccer stadium, Abdul-Rahman said. He added that security officers promised the women that all men over the age of 40 would be freed.
In an indication that the regime shows no sign of folding, Assad was quoted as saying in comments published on Monday that "the current crisis in Syria will be overcome and that the process of administrative, political and media reforms are continuing." The report, in the private daily Al-Watan, which is close to the government, did not elaborate but said Assad made the comments while receiving a local delegation yesterday.
Abdul-Rahman said that more than 250 people had been arrests in Banias, which home to one of Syria's two oil refineries. Special forces backed by tanks entered the city on Saturday.