Syrian Regime Sends Tanks To Deraa In Further Toughening Of Crackdown

Dozens of tanks have been reported en route to Deraa, the Syrian city at the centre of protests against President Bashar al-Assad, as a series of EU nations protested at the increasingly bloody government crackdown that is now believed to have killed more than 450 people.

Deraa remained largely cut off to outside communications but sources reported gunfire again on Wednesday. Amnesty International quoted eyewitnesses who said army snipers were shooting at injured people on the streets and those who tried to reach them.

Witnesses reported seeing a convoy of at least 30 army tanks leave an area near the Golan Heights front line with Israel and head south, apparently towards Deraa, where the protests against Assad's authoritarian regime began six weeks ago.

In an apparent toughening of the official response to the dissent, activists reported an increased security presence in the Damascus suburbs of Douma and Harasta and the coastal city of Banias, and a wave of arrests in towns including Tartous, Harasta and al-Tel. On Tuesday night hundreds of soldiers arrived in full combat gear in Douma. Residents in Deraa are now reportedly lacking basic services such as water and bread.

""They are using a military operation to build the wall of fear again,"" said Wissam Tarif, executive director of the Syrian human rights group Insan. ""They are saying: 'We can use the army'. It is scary to see a city totally cut off and the military invading.""

According to Insan, at least 25 people died on Monday and Tuesday in Deraa, with reports of a further six early on Wednesday. Rights groups say the total death toll since 18 March has risen to more than 450.

There is rising concern over the situation at Deraa's Omari mosque, which has been turned into a field hospital in which medical supplies are believed to be running low.

The Guardian