Syrian forces raid Homs; Assad starts talk
Amman: Syrian forces killed at least one civilian and injured 20 in Homs Monday during the heaviest raids on the city since troops deployed there two months ago to crush dissent against President Bashar al-Assad, residents said.
The armor and tank-backed assaults on Homs, Syria's third largest city and hometown of Assad's wife Asma, came a day after the authorities held a "national dialogue" meeting boycotted by the opposition, who described it as lacking credibility.
"Military raids and house to house arrests have become routine after protests, but this time they did not stop shooting all night in the main neighborhoods," said a resident of the Bab Sbaa district, a lecturer who gave his name as Iyad.
Among hundreds of people arrested in Homs last week was Jalal al-Najjar, a prominent neurosurgeon, he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said armored vehicles fired machineguns on densely populated neighborhoods in Homs overnight and arrested several people.
In the city of Hama, 50 km to the north, security forces mounted house to house arrests and shooting was heard, but there were no immediate reports of casualties, activists said.
Human rights campaigners say hundreds of Syrians of all walks of life are being arrested across the country every week, adding to the more than 12,000 political prisoners in Syrian jails.
Syria has barred most independent media from operating inside the country making it difficult to verify accounts by activists and authorities.
In the last few days, security forces have arrested leading theater director Osama Ghanem in Damascus, 24-year-old journalist Omar al-Assad in the Jaramana suburb of the capital and veterinarian Abdelghani Khamis in Hama, they added.
Shooting was heard across Hama overnight as security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad kept up raids on the city after killing up to 30 people last week. A large protest against Assad's rule took place in the center of Hama Friday, as the U.S. and French ambassadors visited the city in a gesture of international support.