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SYRIA: Activists report manhunt for defectors and protesters

September 5, 2011 | 12:31 pm

Syrian security forces reportedly launched fresh widespread attacks on Monday, intensifying the assault on the central cities of Hama and Homs as the president of the Red Cross visited the country's prisons for the first time.

According to the opposition network, the Local Coordination Committees, at least five people were killed during the military offensives -- three in the central province of Homs, one in the eastern border town of Tal Kalakh and one in Idleb along the Syrian-Turkish border. 

"They are chasing defectors all the way down to the border with Turkey, shooting them in the upper parts of their bodies so that they are not able to escape. The raids went on in all border towns, even Jisr al Shoughour," said Moustafa, a farmer in the northern province of Idleb. The accounts were also confirmed by activists on the Turkish side of the border. 

"The situation along the border is deplorable. I wonder why security officials believe they can act with such impunity even if it may infringe on other neighboring countries," said Oday Assayed, a member and spokesperson of the Local Coordination Committees in the Syria-Turkey border cities, including Idleb.

According to Assayed, at least three people died in raids on the border village of Yaladagh on Monday, when security forces used live ammunition against unarmed civilians looking for refuge. 

The crackdown against protesters calling for the end of the four-decade-long rule of the Assad family reportedly continued in the central areas of Homs and Hama, both the sites of bloodshed in recent weeks.

In the video above, the walls of homes and shops are said to show the results of arbitrary shelling in the town of Bab Idreeb. The town reportedly came under intense fire by heavy artillery on Monday, in a mission to clamp down on opposition. 

"A barbaric assault on the city has been going on for two days straight. They raid houses and take anyone who is even remotely related to the protests," said Majed, an activist in Homs. 

Anti-government protesters have reportedly not shied away from the streets amid the crackdowns. The video below is said to show a small group of defiant young men in Homs marching through the Malaab street and clapping their hands at almost the same time as security forces were raiding homes in the areas of Khaldieh and Bab Idreeb.  

Activists reported a widespread detention operation across Homs and Hama on Sunday, aimed at gleaning information concerning ex-Atty. Gen. Adnan Bakkour's whereabouts. In a video announcement uploaded to YouTube, the high-profile lawyer resigned last week and joined the ranks of the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Different activist networks have given diverging reports concerning Bakkour's whereabouts. Many believe him to have been smuggled into Beirut on Sunday; other activists and residents say he has traveled to neighboring Turkey. 

The Local Coordination Committees believe that the raids along the Syrian borders with Lebanon and Turkey are part of the manhunt for the defected lawyer. 

Soldiers have reportedly been defecting in Damascus, where residents near the Mazzeh military airport said they heard gunfire Monday afternoon.

"I live a few kilometers away from the airport, and I hear gunfire now," said Lina, a student in Damascus.

According to Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees, unverified reports stated that defecting soldiers and the military exchanged gunfire at the airport.

Military offensives by Assad's security forces came as Red Cross President President Jakob Kellenberger finished a two-day trip to Damascus, during which he visited Syrian prisons for the first time, part of a mission to assess the humanitarian situation in the country. 

"The Syrian authorities have granted the ICRC access to a place of detention for the first time. Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the Ministry of the Interior and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees," Kellenberger said in a statement issued Monday. 

Some activists said they find the ICRC's positions concerning the Assad regime too soft. 

"What good are they if they make progress in assessing the humanitarian situation as long as innocent civilians are falling like flies. This is all show," Lina said. 

-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut 

Videos: Images said to show the destruction of residential buildings in Homs; images said to show a protest in the streets of Homs during a military offensiive. Credit: YouTube

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