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Syria sends tanks into rebel stronghold city

The crisis enveloping Syria deepened yesterday when the army sent tanks rolling into the southern city of Deraa to crush one of the main centres of the nationwide rebellion, with at least 18 more people feared to have been killed in the violence.

The move was a serious escalation of force by the government, which had until this point |refrained from using heavy weaponry against pro-reform demonstrators.

Washington condemned the escalation and the spectre of sanctions against the regime loomed.

More raids were also reported in the Damascus suburb of Douma yesterday, with security services sweeping through the area in the early hours of the morning and making scores of arrests. Posts on a Facebook page monitoring the uprising said shots were fired during the raid and hundreds of people had been arrested.

In Deraa, which was the first Syrian city to be hit by anti-government protests last month, satellite television broadcast grainy mobile phone footage of troops squatting in fields as tanks ground through the streets.

Witnesses spoke of seeing bodies lying in the roads as up to 5,000 troops poured into the town.

The crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad comes after his decision last week to lift the hated 48-year state-of-emergency law, which many activists blame for years of human rights abuses.

The raids on Deraa and Douma

yesterday suggest that the Syrian regime is determined to go on the offensive and to crush the uprising.

More than 350 people are believed to have been killed since the anti-government protests erupted last month.

In Washington, the National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said sanctions against the regime were being considered: “The brutal violence used by the government of Syria against its people is completely deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”

Meanwhile in Yemen forces loyal to the president fired on protesters demanding his ousting, killing two at two separate rallies and wounding at least 10 at a third protest, activists said.

Belfast Telegraph