Syrian city at heart of uprising under siege

BEIRUT (AP) — The city at the heart of Syria’s monthlong uprising ran low on food, water and medicine Wednesday as the army sent in more tanks and reinforcements as part of a widening crackdown against opponents of President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian regime, witnesses said.

Two residents in Daraa said at least five army officers had sided with demonstrators, and conscripted soldiers sent into the city were quietly refusing orders to detain people at checkpoints and were allowing some people through to get scarce supplies. But the Syrian government denied that there had been any splits in the military, which is seen as fiercely loyal to Assad.

Gunfire and sporadic explosions were heard in Daraa, two days after the military rolled in — backed by tanks and snipers. The army also deployed tanks around the Damascus suburb of Douma and the coastal city of Banias, the site of large demonstrations recently.

“We have no electricity, no water, no telephones and no bread,” resident Abdullah Abazeid told The Associated Press by satellite telephone from Daraa, where the uprising began more than five weeks ago. “The situation is terrible.”

Assad is trying to crush the uprising that poses the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty. Since mid-March, more than 450 people have been killed across Syria in the crackdown, with 120 dead just over the weekend.

The repression, however, has only emboldened protesters who started their revolt with calls for modest reforms but are now increasingly demanding Assad’s downfall.

Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

Eyewitness accounts coming out of Syria have caused world leaders to increase their criticism of the Assad regime. The governments of five European nations summoned Syrian ambassadors Wednesday in a coordinated demand that Assad stop shooting at his people. Germany said sanctions were possible if the crackdown didn’t ease, echoing remarks by Britain’s foreign secretary a day earlier.

UN, European nations seek end to Syria violence

GENEVA (AP) — European nations summoned Syrian ambassadors Wednesday in a coordinated demand that President Bashar Assad stop gunning down his people, and Germany said sanctions were possible if the crackdown did not ease.

The United States called on the U.N.’s top human rights body to approve an independent probe and recommend prosecution if violations of international human rights law are uncovered.

A draft resolution to be considered at an emergency session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday demands an immediate end to Assad’s efforts to crush the es challenge to his rule. It also calls on Syria to lift its ban on nearly all foreign media and ease its restrictions on the Internet and telecommunications.

France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain told Syrian ambassadors that they condemned the violence and said that Assad must change tactics, according to France’s foreign ministry.

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