Assad sends special forces against protesters

Wednesday, March 23, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

NICOSIA The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has deployed special operations forces in a southern city torn by unrest.

Opposition sources said the Assad regime has deployed the 4th Battalion in the southern city of Dera amid unprecedented clashes between security forces and protesters. The battalion has been reserved for operations against regime opponents, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood.

"When this unit arrives, there is usually bloodshed," an opposition source said.

The military and security forces, under the command of Assad's cousin, Zuelhelma Shalish, a senior officer in military intelligence, have arrested scores of suspected Syrian opposition activists in Dera, with a population of 100,000. The sources said authorities were preventing civilians from entering Dera to ensure that the opposition would not be reinforced. One of those detained was identified as Syrian parliamentarian, Soufok Al Nojrous, a tribal chief in Dera, about 100 kilometers south of Damascus and near the border with Jordan.

On March 23, the brigade and other security forces stormed a mosque in Dera, and the sources said at least six people were killed. Syrian state television reported four dead and blamed an "armed gang" for the early-morning violence.

The sources said the battalion was accompanied by Russian-origin T-72 main battle tanks and BMP infantry fighting vehicles. They said the armored units have been deployed in the center of Dera, where clashes have taken place this month.

Anti-regime demonstrations have so far been reported in at last six Syrian cities. They included Aleppo, Dail, Damascus, Nawa and Qamishli, where protests sparked a violent response by security forces.

The government has acknowledged rising unrest against Assad. But officials said most of the protests were organized by foreign elements and what they termed troublemakers.

"They are foreigners and using such slogans as 'freedom,' " Syrian parliamentarian Khaled Al Aboud, a regime supporter, said.

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