Syrian tanks move into Banias


Tanks stormed Syria’s flashpoint Banias city on Saturday, rights activists said, amid international condemnation of the crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.


Syrian security forces shot dead at least 26 protesters Friday during a huge "Day of Defiance", according to rights groups.

Residents of Banias, in the north-west of the country, formed human chains in a bid to halt the military operation when it began very early Saturday.

Electricity and communications were cut as the tanks entered along three axes heading towards the southern sector of the city, the bastion of anti-regime protesters, sources told news agencies.

Tanks also surrounded the nearby town of Baida while an army boat patrolled offshore, they said.

On Thursday a convoy of 40 military vehicles pulled out of the southern town of Daraa, another protest centre, which the military had locked down since 25 April, killing dozens in indiscriminate shelling, according to the opposition.

But General Riad Haddad, the military's political department chief, insisted that troops in Daraa "did not confront the protesters. We continue searching for terrorists hidden in several places. As the army, we never confronted the protesters."

Human rights groups say that more than 600 people have been killed and 8,000 jailed or gone missing in the crackdown on protesters since demonstrations erupted in mid-March.

The United States warned it would take "additional steps" against Assad's regime if the crackdown, which rights groups say has seen 600 killed and 8,000 jailed, does not end. It imposed sanctions on the Assad regime a week ago.

It also welcomed the European Union's decision Friday to impose sanctions on 13 Syrian officials "responsible for human rights abuses." EU officials will meet Monday to discuss whether to target Assad as well, diplomats said.

The Syrian rights group, Insan, put Friday's death toll at 26 - 16 in the central city of Homs, six in Hama, north of Damascus, two in Jableh on the Mediterranean and another two for which it gave no details.

The military announced that 10 soldiers and police were killed in Homs by "armed terrorist groups", and said the bodies of some of them were mutilated by the assailants.

Prominent dissident and former MP Riad Seif, was arrested in Damascus, the London-based Observatory reported on Friday. Amnesty International said he was seized while leaving a mosque.

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