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SYRIA: Army tanks roll into opposition stronghold of Dara and open fire [Video]

April 25, 2011 |  3:01 am

The crackle of heavy-caliber gunfire erupts in the dawn skies over the city Dara, the flash point of the Syrian revolution -- now apparently under siege by its own government.

Syria's leaders have ordered tanks to crush a popular uprising in the southern city of Dara, say residents of the city that started the five-week old peaceful popular revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Syria-tankThe video above is said to show soldiers and and a gunner on a tank firing into the city. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where the armies maintain a relatively neutral role, Syria's armed forces remain a bastion of loyalty to the minority Alawite community and Assad's clan.

According to activists quoted by Al Jazeera television, authorities have cut off phone service and disconnected electrical power to the farming hub, where the arrest and alleged torture of teenagers accused of writing graffiti sparked the weeks-long unrest now gripping Syria. 

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that army officers and gunmen loyal to Assad have engaged in what they described as a bloody and indiscriminate crackdown on demonstrators. Agence France-Presse has reported that a military force of 3,000 men has marched into Dara.

Activists have accused Assad of resorting to "Hama Rules," the violent strategy by which his father Hafez crushed a 1982 rebellion in the western city of Hama, where he used the full brunt of his security forces to kill thousands of people. 

But whether such a strategy will work in the YouTube era remains to be seen. In addition, the wall of fear seems to have broken down. In the video above, protesters in Dara are seen not only throwing a rock defiantly at an incoming tank, but also milling about near it, almost daring the soldiers to fire on them. 

In the absence of international media, activists have taken up the role of war journalists, recording  evidence of the army's offensive, as shown in the video above.

Syria last weekend experienced its bloodiest days since protests began almost a month ago. More than 300 demonstrators have been killed by the security forces amid calls for international action

The protest movement shows little sign of abating. Over the weekend, at least seven officials from Dara broke with the Damascus government and sided with the protesters. Prominent Syrian intellectuals and activists signed a communiqué Monday condemning attacks on peaceful civilian protesters.

-- Roula Hajjar and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Videos: Syria's armed forces move into the city of Dara to crush an uprising. Credit: YouTube

Photo: A young man throws a rock at a tank moving into Dara. Credit: YouTube

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