05/04/2011, 00.00

Cities under siege as more than a thousand arrests are made in two days

Human rights organisations slam arbitrary arrests and interrogations in Deraa, including in hospitals. Military and pro-regime militias surround the city of Baniyas to prevent a possible uprising. Turkish prime minister condemns the repression, remembers 1982 Hama massacre of 20,000 people.

Beirut (AsiaNews/ Agencies) – With a thousand people arrested in two days, the Syrian regime continues its relentless crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. According to the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, the authorities are targeting writers, intellectuals and known pro-reform activists for arrest, charging them with “degrading the prestige of the state”, an offence punishable with three years in prison. Most of the arrests are being carried out in Deraa, a town in southwestern Syria where protests broke out on 15 March.

Syrian cities are turning into armed camps as President Bashar al Assad tries to reclaim control of the country. In less than two weeks, the army has sent thousands of troops into Deraa and Baida and is now laying siege to Baniyas.

According to sources in Deraa, after the army stormed the town, it arrested almost 500 people, holding them in the local stadium.

People who were able to leave the city say that soldiers and police are in complete control, occupying hospitals where they are interrogating the wounded and the dying.

In order to take control of Baniyas, a predominantly Sunni town of 50,000 people, the regime is organising militias in Alawite villages around the city.

Local sources said that the army has already moved into the city’s northern and southern neighbourhoods, and is moving towards the centre.

The Syrian regime has so far killed over 560 people. This has raised concerns in the international community. Speaking to Turkish media, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned the crackdown in Syria. He urged Assad not to repeat the 1982 massacre in Hama, when 20,000 people were slaughtered.

The United States is also concerned about the crisis in Syria.  Speaking about the repression, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “These are, quite frankly, barbaric measures and they amount to the collective punishment of innocent civilians,” adding that immediate sanctions against the regime are needed.

The European Union has for its part been more circumspect, except for Germany, which has called for immediate sanctions.

Unlike Libya, where they acted swiftly, France and Great Britain, in the Syrian case, have called for sanctions only if the situation got worse.

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