'House-to-house raids' in Syrian cities

Protest organisers and participants targeted in overnight raids, activists say, as gunfire reported near Damascus.

    The Syrian government is continuing its weeks-long crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, arresting opponents and deploying troops in protest hubs.

    Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said security forces were carrying out house-to-house raids targeting demonstration organisers and participants.

    He said Monday's raids were focused in the central city of Homs, the coastal city of Baniyas, some suburbs of the capital, Damascus, and villages around the southern flashpoint city of Deraa.

    Another activist said gunfire was heard in the town of Moadamiya, just west of the capital, Damascus, as troops carried out arrests.

    Al Jazeera is unable to independently verify reports of arrests and gunfire because of restrictions on reporting in Syria.

    UN access blocked

    Meanwhile, Syrian authorities have stopped a UN humanitarian team from visiting Deraa where hundreds are
    said to have been killed in a government crackdown.

    "The UN humanitarian assessment mission has not been able to get into Deraa," Farhan Haq, the UN deputy spokesman, said on Monday.

    "We are trying to clarify why it hasn't had access. We are also trying to get access to other areas of Syria," Haq added.

    Live Blog Syria

    In a sign that the government shows no sign of folding, Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, was quoted as saying in comments published on Monday that "the current crisis... will be overcome".

    Assad, whose departure from office is one of the protesters' key aims, said a process of administrative, political and media reforms were 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 on Sunday.

    Rights campaigners say about 250 people have been arrested in Baniyas since Saturday, including Anas al-Ayrout, a Muslim cleric considered the head of the dissent movement in the city.

    Firas Khaddam, a nephew of former Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam, was also detained, Abdul-Rahman said. The older Khaddam, living in exile since he left Syria in 2005, has expressed support for the banned Muslim Brotherhood and called for the overthrow of the regime.

    Sectarian scare

    The military said on Sunday that six soldiers, including three officers, were killed in clashes as the army pursued "armed terrorist groups" in Homs, Baniyas and near Deraa.

    A posting by The Damascus News Network, a pro-government page on Facebook, said calm had been restored in Baniyas after the army removed the "Takfiri tumour", referring to what is being described by some commentators as a violent offshoot of the Salafist movement.

    "Al-Ayrout and his collaborators were arrested. The arrested terrorists were gathered into the Municipal Stadium due to their big number," the posting continued.

    View a larger map of protest flashpoints around Damascus
    (The location of the parliament is marked in red as a reference)

    Syrian officials and state-run media have tried to portray Baniyas as a hotbed of Islamic extremists to justify the crackdown there. Al-Watan said "armed groups" had used heavy weapons and mortar rounds against the army.

    Syria is home to many different ethnic and religious groups, and some analysts say the government is trying to ignite fear among the people that if the government falls, the country will be thrown into sectarian unrest.

    In the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, a witness said Syrian forces killed at least two unarmed demonstrators on Sunday when they opened fire on a night rally.

    "There are two bodies on the ground and no one can reach them. There is still gunfire and people are fleeing the scene," the witness told Reuters from the Old Airport district of the tribal city. 

    Activists also said about a dozen unarmed protesters, including a 12-year-old child, had been killed by security forces when troops entered Homs early on Sunday.

    Syria has banned foreign media and restricted access for reporters to many parts of the country, making it difficult to confirm witness accounts of the violence.

    Meanwhile, concerns remain for the welfare of Dorothy Parvaz, an Al Jazeera journalist, who has not been heard from since she arrived in the capital, Damascus, on April 29.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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