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In the early hours of Saturday, Syrian troops and tanks entered Baniyas, a coastal city in the northwest of Syria located at the foot of the hill of Qalaat el-Marqab. Baniyas has been the centre of anti-regime protests for some time and as the report of the military operation emerged, electricity and communication was cut. Updates are coming from human rights activists on the scene.
More than 500 people are believed to have died since mid-March as a result of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters. 8000 people have been jailed or gone missing so far.
According to the BBC, at least 21 people were reported killed in Homs, Hama and other cities Friday, in what protesters had named ‘day of defiance’. However, no reports can be verified independently since foreign journalists are not allowed to enter Syria.
As tanks rolled into the ‘bastion of the protestors’, residents formed human chains in an attempt to halt the procession, human rights activists told AFP. NOW Lebanon could report that tanks had also encircled the nearby town of Bayda while army ships patrolled offshore.
According to new agencies, activists have told that armed units were advancing on the Sunni Muslim areas but steering clear of the neighborhoods of the minority Alawite sect which the presidential family belongs to.
“Residents are reporting the sound of heavy gunfire and seeing Syrian navy boats off the Baniyas coast. Sunni and mixed neighborhoods are totally besieged now,” one rights campaigner, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters news agency.
This mornings development comes two days after a large convoy of military vehicles pulled out of Daraa, which had been under siege since April 25. Hundreds of families are said to have fled Baniyas in anticipation of attacks.
(Sources: BBC News, NOW Lebanon have contributed to this report)
Image provided by Ahmad Al Zoughbi