Syria frees dozens in Banias, tanks remain

Syrian security forces have released 300 people detained in the coastal city of Banias and restored basic services, a rights group said.

Syria frees dozens in Banias, tanks remain

Syrian security forces have released 300 people detained in the coastal city of Banias and restored basic services, a rights group said, within hours of the government saying the threat from protests was receding.

Tanks stormed residential areas of Banias last week, after President Bashar al-Assad deployed the military to crush dissent against three decades of Baath Party rule, having held out the prospect of political reform when unrest first erupted in March.

Water, telecommunications and electricity had been restored, but tanks remained in major streets, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday. Two hundred people, including pro-democracy protest leaders, were still in jail, it said.

"Scores of those released where were severely beaten and subjected to insults. A tank deployed in the square where demonstrations were being held," Observatory director Rami Abdelrahman said.

Human rights campaigners said at least six civilians, including four women, where killed in raids on Sunni neighbourhoods in the mixed-faith city, and in an attack on an all-women demonstration just outside Banias on Saturday.

Presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said security forces were reacting to armed militants who had manipulated "the legitimate demands of the people" calling them "a combination of fundamentalists, extremists, smugglers, people who are ex-convicts and are being used to make trouble".

"I think now we've passed the most dangerous moment...I hope we are witnessing the end of the story," Shaaban told a New York Times correspondent allowed into the country for a few hours. Most foreign journalists have been banned.

Until the uprising began, Assad -- from the minority Shi'ite Alawite sect -- had been emerging from Western isolation after defying the United States over Iraq and reinforcing an anti-Israel bloc with Iran, increasing Syrian Sunni concerns.

"This regime is playing a losing card by sending tanks into cities and besieging them. Syrians have seen the blood of their compatriots spilt. They will never return to being non-persons," prominent rights campaigner Suhair al-Atassi said from Damascus.

Atassi said a demonstration against Assad's autocratic rule erupted on Tuesday in Homs, Syria's third city, despite a heavy security clampdown, after tanks stormed several neighbourhoods on Sunday and three civilians were killed.

Another human rights campaigner in Homs said 1,500 people had fled their homes in three villages near the city where tanks had been deployed. One woman was killed by the military forces which swept into the area on Sunday, he added.

In the eastern city of Qamishli, around 1,000 people marched in a night demonstration demanding the lifting of the sieges of Homs, Banias and southern cities and towns encircled by tanks.

Four civilians in the southern town of Tafas were killed as security forces widened a campaign of arrests, a human rights campaigner in the region said, adding that 300 people had been detained since tanks entered Tafas on Saturday.


Leading activist Louay Hussien, one of four opposition figures who has met Shaaban over the last two weeks to explore the possibility of a dialogue said:

"We said that the authorities should allow peaceful protesting and allow sit-ins so that the protesters can agree on political programmes and choose their representatives who will negotiate with the authorities," Hussien said.

Officials have blamed most of the violence on "armed terrorist groups", backed by Islamists and foreign agitators, and say around 100 soldiers and police have also been killed in the unrest.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Syrian government crackdown would only strengthen the determination of protesters.

Adding to international criticism, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has had close ties to Assad, disputed the official Syrian account of the violence.

Erdogan said more than 1,000 civilians had died and he did not want to see a repeat of the 1982 Hama violence or the 1988 gassing of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja, when 5,000 people died.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 11 Mayıs 2011, 09:47