Syrian Forces Storm Daraa as Activists Detained in Sweeps

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Syrian security forces stormed the city of Daraa in the south, the site of the most sustained protests against President Bashar al-Assad, al-Jazeera television reported, citing witnesses.

As many as 300 people have been detained in widespread sweeps over the past three days, according to Mahmoud Merhi, who heads the Arab Organization for Human Rights. Many of those arrested were taken from their homes at night, according to Haitham al-Maleh, a member of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, who estimates hundreds were arrested.

Assad has failed to end demonstrations after vowing to meet activists demands and ending a 48-year state of emergency. Khalil al-Rifai and Nasser al-Hariri, lawmakers from the southern town of Daraa resigned on April 22. The city s top government-appointed religious leader, Mufti Rizq Abdel Dayem Abazid, also resigned in protest.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Sayasneh, the imam of the Omari mosque in Daraa who was a member of a delegation that met with Assad after the first wave of violence last month, said yesterday that he has joined the protesters. In an interview with al-Jazeera, the imam said he is in hiding as security forces were looking for him because he had denounced them as killers.

We have reached a point of no return with them after they killed our sons, and there is no room for discussions anymore, he said.

U. S. Sanctions

The Obama administration is considering options to hold Assad accountable for the crackdown, including possible sanctions, an administration official said.

One of the options under consideration is an executive order for President Barack Obama to sign that would institute sanctions against Syrian officials, the administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The sanctions would target those officials leading the crackdown and may include freezing their assets and banning business dealings with the U. S. , the official said.

Faisal al-Haymad, deputy president of the Daraa chamber of commerce, told al-Jazeera yesterday he is resigning to protest the regime s repression and said he has now joined the opposition.

Security forces opened fire yesterday to prevent movements on the streets in the coastal city of Jableh and in a town near Daraa, according to Razan Zaitouneh, an activist. Al-Jazeera also reported the shooting in Jableh.

On the Brink

The situation is being pushed to the brink, Haitham al- Maleh, said in a telephone interview from Damascus yesterday.

Merhi said 126 people were killed in the past two days, 113 of them during April 22 demonstrations and 13 during funerals yesterday, making them the deadliest clashes since protests began March 15. More than 2,000 people have been detained, with half of them released since mid-March, he said.

The United Nations should set up an international inquiry into the Syrian shootings, Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, said in a statement yesterday.

It is no longer enough to condemn the violence, said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. Faced with the Syrian authorities shoot to kill strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters.

Canada and Britain have called on their citizens who are in Syria to leave while commercial options are still available.

Obama condemned Assad for outrageous use of violence, saying April 23 that he must change course now and heed the calls of his own people.

U. S. Instigation

Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria s citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies, Obama said.

A Syrian official who wasn t identified by name expressed regret over the remarks, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA. The U. S. shows a lack of responsibility and represents a part of the instigation that puts Syrian citizens at risk, the official was quoted as saying.

Syrian officials have blamed the unrest on armed criminal groups and foreign instigators. In a statement yesterday, the Interior Ministry said the number of security forces injured since March 15 reached 286 as of April 23, according to SANA.

Courtesy: Bloom Berg

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