Last updated: 25 September, 2011

Syria sends troop reinforcements to Homs area

Syria pressed on with a crackdown on anti-regime dissent Sunday, dispatching troop reinforcements to the flashpoint province of Homs and security forces near Damascus, activists said.

“Military reinforcements were sent to Rastan, deploying around the building housing military security, and others to Qusseir,” a town on the border with Lebanon, they said.

The Syrian army had strengthened its presence in Qusseir on Saturday and previous days after many civilians tried to escape the violence.

The deployments come a day after activists reported that security forces had killed 12 civilians in Qusseir, in the central province of Homs, and one more in Hama, further north.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which carried the toll said that the 12 civilians were killed in Qusseir during raids for people wanted by the authorities.

It also said that security forces had opened fire on protests in several Homs neighbourhoods, but did not immediately report possible casualties.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has said the death toll from the crackdown on dissent since March 15 has risen to more than 2,700.

Also on Sunday, security forces were dispatched in large numbers to the restive suburb of Douma, northeast of Damascus, activists said.

And 10 students, including a girl, were arrested Sunday by security forces in Dael, a city in Daraa province, birthplace of the anti-regime protests.

“The fate of students is unknown,” the Observatory said.

Syria has been gripped by almost daily anti-regime protests since March 15.

Initially the demonstrations appealed for greater reforms in the autocratic country but, faced with a brutal and bloody crackdown, protesters have openly called for President Bashar al-Assad to quit.

Damascus does not accept that popular opposition to the authorities exists, instead blaming “armed gangs” and “terrorists” for trying to sow chaos.

Activists have frequently reported defections in military ranks and on Sunday the Observatory said authorities conducted raids and arrests in the province of Idlib bordering Turkey “after more than 40 soldiers from the Nayrab boot camp escaped.”

The Britain-based group also reported Sunday the death of four people, including that of Hassan Eid, the head of the surgery department at the state-run hospital in Homs, who was shot dead outside his home.

Syrian state television said Eid was killed by “armed terrorist gangs.”

Activists had called for a rally Sunday to pay tribute to Zeinab al-Hosni, an 18-year-old whose mutilated body was discovered in a mortuary last week two months after her arrest, according to Amnesty International.

The girl’s family discovered her body “by chance” and “in horrific circumstances,” while collecting the corpse of her activist elder brother Mohammad Deeb from a Homs military hospital, according to Amnesty.

“They assassinated you. You underwent inhuman torture. but your blood has not been shed in vain. We promise. Today we are all Zeinab,” said the call to protests posted on the Facebook page dubbed The Syrian Revolution 2011.

Political pressure on Syria to stop the brutal crackdown against its citizen took a new push Saturday as fresh EU sanctions came into effect while neighbour Turkey said it intercepted an arms shipment at sea.