Sunday, May 8, 2011

Syrian Security Forces Kill 3 Women

Sunday, May 8, 2011

ABU DHABI—Syria's military moved into Banias Saturday morning and security forces killed three women who were scrambling after detained men in the Mediterranean coastal city, according to activists and a resident, despite the strongest yet U.S. condemnation a day earlier of the continued crackdown on protesters.

Security forces opened fire on a group of women who had run out onto the street to question the mass round-up and detention of their husbands, sons and brothers, a resident reached by telephone said. The resident said he was speaking from a town on the city's periphery, having fled to make phone calls since electricity and phone services were cut off on Friday.

"The army came in, they searched the whole town, and then retreated," the resident said. "After that, the security forces came in and started raiding homes and detaining people." He said he couldn't estimate the number of people detained, but that security forces rounded up "three, big buses full of men." One of the women killed was 25 years old, he said.

Activists said Saturday's military raid on Banias—a largely Sunni city with pockets of surrounding Alawite towns—appeared to follow similar military movements into Deraa, the southern cradle of Syria's protest movement, and the central city of Homs. The entry of tanks and troops in all three cities was followed by home raids and detentions, in an apparent effort to squash areas where protesters have been the most determined, activists said.

A city of about 50,000 people, Banias has been surrounded by military tanks for about a month before tanks rolled in from at least three entry points early morning on Saturday. About 7,000 people protested across Banias on Friday, mostly to denounce the violent siege of Deraa, according to opposition activists.

On Friday, security forces killed at least 27 people across four cities as thousands marched in "Friday of Defiance" protests, activists and witnesses said. For the first time in Syria's seven-week uprising, some members of the military appear to have wielded their weapons in support of protesters.

In Homs, where 15 people were killed on Friday, witnesses and activists said army soldiers and members of the military intelligence exchanged gunfire for two hours as the army men appeared to try to protect protesters. On Saturday, hundreds marched in large funeral processions in Homs, according to activists. Syria's government said it conducted processions for eleven members of the police and army forces who were killed on Friday by "extremist terrorist groups" in Homs.

The White House on Friday strongly condemned the government's use of violence and said it would adjust relations with Syria unless it refrained from "brute force and flagrant violations of human rights in suppressing peaceful protests."

Also Friday, European Union ambassadors agreed to enact sanctions against 13 Syrian officials starting next week. The sanctions won't affect President Bashar al-Assad, EU officials said.

On Saturday in Banias, residents ran out of their homes after hearing gunfire shortly after 6 am, the resident said. "Security forces told us over speakerphones: 'Return to your homes, we don't want to hurt you, we are just coming in to search your houses.'"

The military then moved into the city and snipers took positions on rooftops, as security forces rounded up men, the resident said. But he said the type of military troops that entered on Saturday was different from the army that had positioned around the city for weeks. Those troops, he said, had retreated suddenly on Friday, leaving residents concerned "there was some plot, as in the case of Deraa."

"We had greeted them, developed good relations with them, given them olive branches," he said of the soldiers formerly deployed around the city. "But they have insisted that Banias is armed and dangerous."

Syria's government has maintained the protests—the biggest challenge facing Mr. Assad's 11-year rule—are instigated by extremist, terrorist groups and armed gangs. The president moved quickly to quell the protests in their first month, sacking his government and ending a decades-old emergency law. Syria has expelled foreign journalists from the country and barred those inside from reporting on areas of protests.

Protester discontent has been increasingly focused on denouncing the violent crackdown on Deraa, which remained locked under a 10-day military siege, and against brutal tactics by Syria's multi-layered security and intelligence forces. Syria's government said Thursday it would start gradually withdrawing the military from Deraa.

As many as 8,000 people are missing or in detention in Syria since the unrest began in mid-March, according to Insan, a Syria-focused human-rights group based in Spain. Between 650 and 850 people have been killed since then, according to estimates of various human rights groups.

"We are asking for the dismantling of this vast, complicated security regime that has controlled our lives for 40 years, period," the Banias resident said.

Write to Nour Malas at

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