| 15.09,11. 03:06 AM |
Huge Military Sweep Launched in Northwest Syria
Syrian security forces on Wednesday launched a massive military operation in the northwest of the country, activists said, while calling for demonstrations Thursday to mark six months of revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"Six months. More than ever determined to (continue) the March 15 uprising," the activists wrote on their Facebook page, "Syrian Revolution 2011", despite the crackdown on protests which according to the United Nations has left 2,600 people dead, mostly civilians.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that early on Wednesday "armed security forces using heavy machineguns entered villages of Jabal al-Zauia, Abline, Baliune, Marayane, Ihsem and al-Rami."
It said the forces pounded the surrounding countryside where anti-regime activists were suspected to be hiding.
"The roads connecting the villages have been cut, checkpoints erected and security forces are making arrests," the Observatory said.
Abline, one of the villages targeted, is the hometown of Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush, the first military officer to publicly declare his desertion in early June in protest against the repression of the pro-democracy movement.
He managed to leave Syria and is currently leading the "Brigade of Free Officers", a group of dozens of officers who have deserted the regime.
In the central region of Homs, the body of a young man arrested on Saturday was handed over to his parents on Wednesday, the Observatory said.
Armed forces also entered Houla where a pro-regime militiaman was murdered at dawn by three unidentified men.
Syrian forces were also dispatched early Wednesday to the town of Zabadani, 50 kilometers west of Damascus, a scene of massive anti-regime demonstrations Tuesday, activists said.
Fifteen people were arrested Wednesday in Zabadani, where at least 34 others were arrested a day ago.
SANA, the official news agency, reported that a bus driver was ambushed in the central city of Hama by an "armed terrorist group," while five soldiers and a security guard who were killed in "firing by armed terrorist groups" were buried in Aleppo and Homs.
Damascus has consistently maintained that the protests are the work of armed groups, rejecting the reports of Western embassies and human rights groups that the great majority of those killed have been unarmed civilians.
Global and Arab pressure has intensified on Syria, with the European Union planning to strengthen its sanctions against Damascus, which could prohibit investments in the oil sector.
Syrian state television, meanwhile, announced the holding of national dialogue from Sunday in all provinces "to develop a program aimed at preserving national sovereignty and respect for the freedom of citizens and the rule of law."