Beirut, Lebanon – The Syrian government said Monday that it had arrested dozens of people in a central Syrian region that has become a flash point in fighting between defectors and security forces waging a brutal crackdown on a six-month uprising.
The military said over the weekend that it had retaken Rastan, a restive town on the corridor between the strategic locales of Homs and Hama, two of Syria’s largest cities. It reportedly deployed more forces on Monday in Talbiseh, near Homs, another town that has defied government authority for months in a revolt that has shaken the four-decade rule of the Assad family. Since the summer, residents say, both Rastan and Talbiseh have appeared virtually occupied, with tanks and soldiers guarding the towns’ entrances.
“The defectors were the main reason behind the war on Rastan,” said a resident there who gave his name as Hassan. “Only women were allowed to leave their homes. The men were detained immediately.” Though he was unable to give an estimate on the number detained, the Syrian news agency SANA said arrests numbered “in the dozens.”
The Syrian uprising, which began with largely peaceful protests in the southern, drought-stricken Houran region in March, seems to have entered a new stage. While protests remain largely peaceful, armed opponents of the government are fighting in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. American officials estimate military defectors to number in the thousands, and while many have simply sought refuge, others have joined the uprising, especially in places like Homs, Rastan and Talbiseh.
Encouraged by the United States, Turkey and Qatar, the opposition abroad has sought to unify its ranks, most recently with a meeting in Istanbul on Sunday, hoping to fashion itself as a possible transition in the aftermath of a government collapse. But diplomats and activists concede that it remains divided over agendas and ideologies.
The state news agency said the military also confiscated weapons, ammunition and explosives in Rastan on Monday. Since the uprising’s start, the government has cast the opposition as an armed insurgency, driven by militant Islamists — by all other accounts, a vast exaggeration. But reports have grown of assassinations, and some residents have worried about growing strife between Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and the Alawite minority. President Bashar al-Assad and his top officials are Alawite.
The authorities said that Sariya Hassoun, the son of a leading Sunni cleric allied with the government, was killed Sunday in the restive northwest province of Idlib.
By: ANTHONY SHADID