Syrian Forces Raid Hama, Make Arrests

Posted August 31st, 2011 at 7:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists and residents say security forces backed by tanks have entered the central city of Hama, making arrests and hunting for leaders behind the five-month, pro-democracy uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

They said hundreds of troops emerged Wednesday from buses parked on the city's outskirts and searched two neighborhoods, al-Qusour and al-Hamidiya. The soldiers asked by name for people known or suspected to be involved in planning the widespread demonstrations.

Hama activists said they heard sporadic gunfire. It is not clear how many people were detained.

Government troops withdrew from Hama earlier this month following a week-long siege of the city, which has seen some of the country's biggest protests demanding an end to Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule.

Also Wednesday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 360 civilians and 113 members of the army and security forces were killed during the just-ended Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The United States expanded sanctions against Syria Tuesday, in response to Mr. Assad's violent crackdown. The new measures include asset freezes and bans on business interactions with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, and Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali.

A State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday the three were targeted because of their role in propagating what she called the “reign of terror” that President Assad has unleashed on his people.

The Syrian government has blamed much of the country's violence on what it calls armed gangs and terrorists.