Syria Escalates Crackdown; 14 Killed in Homs

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Syrian security forces have escalated their military crackdown, killing 14 people, including a young boy, in the central city of Homs, detaining more than 200 others in the coastal city of Banias, and sweeping into several southern towns.

Human rights groups say tanks and troops stormed three Homs districts overnight Sunday (Bab Sebaa, Bab Amro and Tal al-Sour). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the areas have been under total siege since then.

The detentions in Banias, including the arrest of a 10-year-old child, come a day after troops killed six people in the sealed-off city. Witnesses say at least 25 tanks are patrolling the town of about 50,000 people to quell anti-government protests. Banias, which has one of Syria's two oil refineries, is predominantly Sunni Muslim but also is home to many Alawites - the Shi'ite sect of President Bashar al-Assad's family and many senior officials.

As in other towns, witnesses say authorities have cut water, electricity and communications in both Homs and Banias.

Also Sunday, the state-run SANA news agency said an "armed gang" ambushed a bus near Homs and shot dead 10 civilian workers returning from Lebanon. Authorities routinely characterize those involved in the rebellion against Mr. Assad's government as "armed terrorist groups."

Judicial authorities also charged a leading opposition figure who suffers from cancer with violating a ban on protests. Riad Seif, a former lawmaker and an outspoken critic of the regime, has been detained since Friday.

Elsewhere Sunday, residents in the southern towns of Tafas, Dael and Ibtaa said they heard gunfire as Syrian forces swept in to make arrests.

The flashpoint city of Daraa was the first target of the government's military crackdown. The military said Thursday it had "carried out its mission in detaining terrorists" in Daraa and restored calm in the city. However, residents said tanks, troops and snipers still were restricting their movement.

Rights groups say at least 600 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on nationwide anti-government unrest. They say as many as 8,000 people are either missing or detained.