Sweeping Arrests in Syria as Military Rolls In

Syria’s leading activists are going deep into hiding following a relentless and brutal crackdown by the regime, at a time when protest leaders were expected to be emerging into public view, as they did at this stage in Tunisia and Egypt.

“I have spent three days at a friend’s house without being able to go outside and I may have to move again. We are prisoners in our own country,” said one activist from outside Damascus, speaking by Skype to elude surveillance.

The military and security services continued a shoot-to-kill campaign on Sunday designed to crush antiregime protests after more than seven weeks. After the military siege of Deraa—the cradle of Syria’s protest movement—tanks and troops have moved into other restive cities, as a pattern emerges among the regime’s effort to simultaneously eliminate and silence dissent.

At least 18 people were killed on Sunday as the military moved into the central city of Homs, Banias on the Mediterranean coast, and the southern town of Tafas, human-rights activists said. It took longer than in previous days for activists to confirm deaths due to an almost complete electricity and communications blackout across those areas.

In Homs, the site of the largest protests and the bulk of casualties on Friday, residents woke up on Sunday to the sound of large explosions and helicopters overhead, after tanks and hundreds of additional troops rolled into the city overnight, according to activists. Sixteen people, including a 12-year old boy, died as tanks shelled the city’s old quarter, hitting houses in central Homs and neighboring districts, rights activists said on Monday.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” a resident reached by telephone said Sunday. “We’re inside, but it sounds like a war outside.”

Military tanks also moved into Tafas, a southern town on the outskirts of Deraa, killing at least two people on Sunday, rights activists said.

Demonstrations broke out across the country on Friday, including in the business hub of Aleppo and in a district of the capital, Damascus, resulting in the killing of at least 27 people, according to residents and activists. In many cases, they were demanding an end to the crackdown itself. Opposition members estimate, according to their eyewitness accounts and video analyses, that Friday’s turnout was about 30% lower than the previous Friday’s large protests on April 29, partly due to the mass detention and intimidation of people by security forces.

Six others were killed Saturday in a similar military deployment in Banias, including four women who ran outside to question the mass detention of men around the city. The army went door-to-door in the city rounding up men between the ages of 13 and 70, and handing them over to the security forces, who then checked whether their names were on a “wanted” list, one resident said by telephone. The detentions continued on Sunday.

In Homs, an all-girls elementary school was turned into a detention center, a rights activist said. Both Homs and Banias remain cut off from electricity and telecommunications, according to activists.