AMMAN: Secret police raided homes near Damascus overnight, rights campaigners said on Sunday, as popular opposition to authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad mounted following the bloodiest attacks on pro-democracy protesters.
Security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad killed at least 112 people in the last two days when they fired at protests demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption on Friday and on mass funerals for victims a day later.
The attacks were the bloodiest, and the demonstrations were the biggest, since protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa in the strategic Hauran plain near the border with Jordan over five weeks ago.
“Bashar al-Assad, you traitor! You coward. Take your soldiers to the Golan,” protesters chanted on Saturday, chiding Assad for turning his forces on his own people instead of liberating the Golan Heights, where the frontier with Israel has been quiet since a 1974 ceasefire.
Security operatives in plain clothes wielding assault rifles broke into homes in the suburb of Harasta just after midnight on Sunday, arresting activists in the area, known as the Ghouta, or the old garden district of the capital.
Assad lifted an emergency law this week, in place since his Baath Party seized power 48 years ago, in a bid to appease protesters and ease international criticism of the use of deadly force against civilians.
Opponents say the crackdown on demonstrators and the arrests that followed show the move were hollow.
Assad has ejected most foreign media from the country during his crackdown on protesters, so independent reports of the violence are difficult to verify.
Demonstrators have been using the Internet to get out pictures of the violence, many of which have been explicit.
One video posted on Internet site YouTube showed a crowd marching on Friday near Abbasside square in Damascus, purportedly on Friday, chanting “the people want the overthrow of the regime,” before the sound of gunfire was heard.
Demonstrators raised their hands to show that they were unarmed. The fire intensified. One youth fell, with blood spurting from his head and back. His comrades lifted him but dropped his body when the sound of bullets resumed.
In Abada village, 10 kilometres from Damascus, rights campaigners said security forces were preventing people injured in Friday's protests from reaching hospital. A cleric in contact with the town of Nawa near Deraa said residents told him security forces had fired indiscriminately.
Aided by his family and a pervasive security apparatus, Assad, 45, has absolute power, having ignored demands to transform the anachronistic autocratic system he inherited when he succeeded his late father, president Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.
In a move unthinkable in Syria just five weeks ago, two lawmakers from Deraa in Syria's' rubberstamp parliament resigned on Saturday to protest against the killings of protesters.
The weekend protests stretched from the port city of Latakia to Homs, Hama, Damascus, its suburbs and southern towns. The death toll rose to around 350, with scores of missing, since the demonstrations broke out on March 18, rights campaigners said.