| 23.07,11. 03:15 AM |
Syrian protesters confront heavy security presence
Syrian military and security forces deployed heavily in the capital Friday, detaining dozens of people and setting up checkpoints as the opposition called for national unity during planned protests against President Bashar Assad’s rule.
The call for unity comes after a week that saw a wave of sectarian bloodshed in Syria – a fearsome development in the country’s religiously mixed society. The opposition has been careful to paint their movement as free of any sectarian overtones.
The uprising has grown steadily over more than four months, posing the most serious threat to the Assad family’s four-decade rule. Last Friday saw the largest crowds yet, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets across the country.
Syrian security forces killed 32 people last Friday, half of them in the capital, activists said. In an apparent effort to avoid a repeat of that, security forces deployed heavily in Damascus as early as dawn Friday, pulling people from their homes and setting up checkpoints.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a wide network activists and residents on the ground, said soldiers and security forces deployed in large numbers in the Qaboun and Rukneddine neighborhoods, where most of the deaths occurred last week.
“They are surrounding Qaboun from all sides and they’ve cut off mobile and land lines,” an activist in Qaboun said, asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals.
Over the past week, the military has launched a massive crackdown in Homs, the city in central Syria at the heart of the uprising.
Details about the siege in Homs were sketchy, as most witnesses told The Associated Press they were too scared even to look out their windows. The city has seen some of the most intense violence as the regime tries to stamp out the revolt.
Residents reported heavy gunfire and explosions Thursday in the Bab Sbaa area of Homs, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Damascus.
The regime has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted coverage, making it nearly impossible to independently verify events on the ground or casualty figures.
Activists say up to 50 people have been killed in Homs since Saturday, a wave of violence that has signaled a potentially dangerous turn in the uprising. According to witnesses and activists, much of the bloodshed has taken on sectarian overtones.
Opposition figures have accused Assad’s minority Alawite regime of trying to stir up trouble with the Sunni majority to blunt the growing enthusiasm for the uprising.
In Knayseh, a Lebanese village near the Syrian border, residents said they were seeing streams of people fleeing Syria in recent months.
Ahmad Walid Ali, 12, said he crossed into Lebanon from Boweit, in Homs province, one month ago with his mother, father and 11 brothers and sisters.
“We were terrified because of the attacks on our village and we moved to Lebanon,” the boy said. “I used to go to school but haven’t gone for the past four months.”