Syria Uses Tanks To Crack Down On Demonstrators

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Security forces in Syria are cracking down on opponents of President Bashar Assad's regime. Videos posted on the Internet show Syrian tanks moving into a town in the country's south.


Syria's government cracked down on protestors again today. Videos posted on the Internet show Syrian tanks moving into a town in the southern part of the country. NPR's Deborah Amos is monitoring events from neighboring Lebanon. She's on the line.

Hi, Deborah.

DEBORAH AMOS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Deborah, these tanks are described as moving toward Daraa, this southern city which is where the protests began five weeks ago. What has made that the center of the action?

AMOS: Well, it was the arrest and torture of children for writing anti-government graffiti. And that sparked a revolt that's now spread across the country. It appears that there is a military operation underway today.

Before dawn this morning, Syrian tanks, artillery and snipers moved into Daraa. They were firing into homes. There are bodies on the streets, according to social media activists in contact with that town, and the videos that were posted.

The international media, Steve, is banned from the country. So there is no independent confirmation. But we can say that seven government officials from Daraa quit in protest over the weekend. That's pretty unusual. Two announced their resignation live on a popular Arabic satellite channel.

The members of parliament said that they were protesting the overwhelming violence against peaceful protestors in Daraa. On Sunday the security police again opened fire on a funeral procession there, which this time was witnessed by an Al-Jazeera reporter. He was ordered out of the country, and he was driving from Damascus south to Jordan when he saw the security police fire a barrage of bullets from a highway overpass.

INSKEEP: And there have been many arrests as well, right?

AMOS: That confirmation comes from Haifa Malik(ph). He heads the Syrian Human Rights Committee in Damascus. He said that there were at least a hundred people arrested in the city of Homs, that's north of Damascus, and in Duma, which is a suburb outside of the capital.

Malik, until a few weeks ago, was the oldest political prisoner in Syria. He's over 80. And he was given a presidential pardon. That was one of the early concessions in the Syrian uprising.

These overnight arrests come after President Bashar al-Assad officially abolished that law that permitted arrests without charge. But it looks like the police are using those tactics again in this roundup.

INSKEEP: Well, that raises another question, Deborah Amos. Bashar al-Assad is obviously willing to do what he can to keep power in Syria. But there's the question of what Syria's friends think, let alone Syria's critics. Syria's friends like Russia and Turkey have been questioning the extent to which the government is going to stay in power.

AMOS: That is true. And that happened over this weekend. Most interesting, if you read the Turkish press, many people there think that the Turks have not gone far enough. For Turkey, Syria is a very important ally. It is the basis of their trade within the Middle East. They have opened their borders with Syria. There's no visas anymore between these two countries. The Turkish condemnation was mild. They asked them to stop killing protestors. But they didn't go as far as President Obama did over the weekend. And certainly didn't go as far as European nations, who really, really came down on the Syrian government and said that they have to stop what they're doing.

INSKEEP: Deborah, I know it's difficult to sort things out from outside the country. You cannot get in. But as best you can tell, how widespread are the protests outside Daraa, where there have been these arrests and where there is now this military operation against protestors?

AMOS: Even the protest organizers say that they have not reached a critical mass. There are not protests in Damascus, the capital, and not in Aleppo, the second largest city. Now, there is a ring of security police around those two cities. It has started in the suburbs but not in the downtown. There are still people who do support the president and want him to announce reform.

INSKEEP: Okay. All right. Thanks very much, Deborah.

AMOS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Deborah Amos monitoring events in Syria on NPR News.

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