Syria Security Sweep Banias Area Following Deadly Shooting Incident, Residents Say

Security crackdown comes an attack on a military patrol in Banias that killed at least 9 people, including two policemen, according to state news agency SANA.

Activists said Tuesday that Syrian security forces attacked areas surrounding the southern town of Banias, days after an ambush on a military patrol there left at least nine people dead.

Damascus-based human rights lawyer Haitham al-Maleh told the German Press Agency DPA that an unknown number of people had died of their injuries in the nearby village of Beit Jnad, just outside of Banias.

Syrian tank - Reuters - 10.4.2011

At least two people were also wounded when Syrian security forces raided the al-Baida village near Banias, according to residents.

"The army banned youth from Banias from entering the village to help the families there," a resident of Banias told the German Press Agency DPA.

The resident, who wish to remain anonymous, said that security forces took over al-Baida at dawn, barring anyone from entering the village.

The security crackdown comes after Sunday's attack on a military patrol in Banias that killed at least nine people, including two policemen, according to state news agency SANA.

The Syrian army has since cordoned off the Mediterranean town of Banias and its surrounding villages, with military checkpoints set up throughout the area.

Parts of Banias were without electricity for the last two days, and landline phones were disrupted, activists said.

At least 250 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured in Syria since anti-government protests began in the country last month, according to al-Maleh.

Countrywide protests calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down have been met with a violent government crackdown, notably in the southern city of Daraa.

There have been numerous reports of protesters killed, but such reports are difficult to verify since foreign journalists and human rights groups are mostly barred from entering Syria.

Al-Maleh, 80, was a political prisoner until he was released in March, taking advantage of an amnesty granted by al-Assad for those convicted of minor crimes and prisoners over the age of 70.

He told dpa that his release was a "small step in the right direction," but believes that no democratic reforms will take place under al-Assad's rule.

Al-Maleh also expected that protests would continue to grow in the coming weeks.

"Today, Tuesday, is the day of loyalty to the martyrs, those injured and prisoners. Our cause is clear. A popular, peaceful revolution that aims at achieving freedom," activists wrote on the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page.

Al-Assad has moved to appease protesters by sacking the government and several regional governors. He has also promised higher salaries, the release of political prisoners and a possible repeal of controversial emergency laws.

And despite continued protests, the government wants to attract more tourists to the country.

"The [tourism] ministry will announce an exceptional plan to promote tourism in the country, to re-attract tourists to Syria after the sector was severely affected by the current events," an official said.
"The ministry urged travel agencies not to cancel their tours because the riots are not permanent and will not affect the country's stability or the local economy," the official told DPA.

The New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, has accused Syrian security forces of preventing medical teams from reaching the wounded during anti-government demonstrations.

"Blocking access to necessary medical treatment for people who have been injured violates the government's obligations to respect and protect the right to life and not to subject anyone to inhuman treatment," Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, said in a statement.

She was referring to clashes that took place on April 8 in the Syrian cities of Daraa, Hasarta and Douma between demonstrators and police forces, in which 28 people were killed and dozens wounded.

The United States, France, Germany and Britain have demanded an immediate end to the bloodshed.