Syria troops exit one protest hub, enter another

DARAA, Rana Moussaoui and Sammy Ketz- Syria pulled its troops from a 10-day clampdown in Daraa on Thursday and deployed them in another protest hub as activists vowed a "Day of Defiance" to press their anti-regime campaign.
And as President Bashar al-Assad's regime arrested 300 people on another front in Damascus, the United Nations said it was sending a team to access the situation in the southern flashpoint town of Daraa.

Syria troops exit one protest hub, enter another
Dozens of armoured vehicles, including tanks and troops reinforcements, were deployed meanwhile near the Mediterranean coastal town of Banias, an activist told AFP, contacted by telephone.
In Daraa, where the seven-week-old protest movement was born, about 350 soldiers in armoured personnel carriers and trucks plastered with portraits of Assad drove out of the town at around 10:00 am (0700 GMT), an AFP reporter said.
"We have begun our withdrawal after having completed our mission in Daraa," said General Riad Haddad, the military's political department chief. "The army will have pulled out of Daraa completely by the end of the day."
Dozens of people were killed during military assaults in Daraa, launched with what activists termed "indiscriminate" shelling of the town.
But Haddad insisted that troops "did not confront the protesters. We continue searching for terrorists hidden in several places. As the army, we never confronted the protesters."
Twenty-five soldiers were killed in Daraa and 177 wounded, he said.
In the wake of the pullout, residents stepped out of their houses for the first time on Friday, most of them mute with fear as reporters toured the town accompanied by security forces.
"We didn't dare venture outside. I saw a sniper on a roof and a bullet passed within inches of me. Thank God, my life was saved," Najah Abdallah, a young mother wearing a black headscarf and holding her son by the hand, told AFP.
Frightened by the presence of cameras and supervised reporters, one man timidly offered his view: "Hopefully, everything is normal."
Suddenly, another man closer to the protesters joined in: "How can you say nothing is happening? Lies. Me, I'm not afraid to speak out. They just came to massacre us. They ransacked my house, stole my money."
Others, however, recounted the official version of events.
"It was terror. There were hooded men with guns. They set up roadblocks and were taking passers-by off the streets. It was like a state within a state but we've been set free," said Abu Mohammed, a shopkeeper.
The arrests in the Damascus suburb of Saqba came despite appeals from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the United States and Italy for Assad to end the deadly crackdown.
Meanwhile, activists vowed a "Day of Defiance" on Friday to press the campaign in which rights groups say 607 people have died, while 8,000 people have been jailed or gone missing.
In Banias, an activist told AFP by telephone that dozens of armoured vehicles were deployed near the town.
"It looks like they are preparing to attack the town, like they did in Daraa," he said.
And in northern Syria, regime supporters forcibly dispersed a student sit-in at Aleppo University calling for the release of detained colleagues, activists said.
"Security service agents backed by troops detained more than 300 people in Saqba, among them a number of clerics," an activist told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said at least one of those arrested was shot and wounded before being dragged off by security forces.
Troops "tore down a banner in the main square renaming it 'Martyrs' Square,' with photos of those killed attached to it," the activist said, adding seven Saqba residents had died since the protests erupted on March 15.
The activist said more than 2,000 troops and security agents had taken part in the sweep and that those detained were driven away in waiting coaches.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said security forces had also arrested protesters who were admitted in hospitals after injuries suffered in demonstrations at Banias.
UN chief Ban has appealed to Assad to end the deadly crackdown.
"The secretary general reiterated his calls for an immediate end to violence against, and mass arrests of, peaceful demonstrators," spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Wednesday.
The United States and Italy also called for an end to the bloodshed.
"The Syrian government must immediately stop the violence and resume a path of dialogue," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said at a news conference in Rome with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton said she supported planned EU sanctions on Syria and spoke of her "deep concern about the alarming situation in Syria."
In New York, the United Nations said it would send a mission to Daraa after getting the go-ahead from Syrian authorities for a humanitarian team to enter the town.
"I'm told that we have received that access and that in the coming days a humanitarian assessment team will be going to Daraa," a UN deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, told reporters.

Friday, May 6th 2011
Rana Moussaoui and Sammy Ketz

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