Syria has intensified its crackdown against protesters by deploying tanks for the first time. Security forces have reportedly killed at least five people in the city of Deraa as the crackdown against the country’s popular uprising shows no sign of easing.
According to witnesses and rights campaigners, tanks on Monday accompanied infantry into Deraa, a flashpoint of the unrest, with snipers stationed on roofs. Bodies of the dead and wounded are said to be lying on the streets.
Deraa is on the Jordanian border, which Reuters news agency reported was closed on Monday, quoting an official saying that the “timing is related to what appears to be a major security operation that is taking place right now”.
There were also reports of troops going in to the suburbs of Damascus and the coastal town of Jableh.
It is difficult to independently verify information coming out of Syria as the regime has restricted access to most of the international media.
Syria has been rocked by more than a month of popular protests against the corruption and repression associated with the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad. In scenes previously unimaginable in the tightly-controlled police state, thousands have gathered chanting the refrain from the protests that toppled the governments in Egypt and Tunisia: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
On Monday, 102 writers and journalists, including members of the minority Alawite religious sect to which Mr Assad belongs, published a letter urging those who had not yet broken “the barrier of fear” to take a stand against “the violent, oppressive practices of the Syrian regime”.
At least 300 people are believed to have been killed since protests began, including more than 100 in the past few days – the bloodiest response yet from the regime, which last week lifted the country’s hated 48-year-old emergency laws in an attempt to check the protests’ momentum.