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Syrian Military Shelling Residential Areas

Syrian security forces stepped up their already brutal crackdown on protesters today, with tanks shelling residential areas near the cities of Homs and Deraa, the Wall Street Journal reports. At least 20 people have been killed.

Nine deaths occurred in the early hours of the morning when tanks shelled Bab Amro, six miles (10km) from the center of Homs. Nineteen people had already been killed in that city last month.

In Al Hara, which lies near Deraa in the south, 11 more civilians were slaughtered when tanks opened fire on residential areas.

Army units have been going door to door in numerous towns and cities, employing tactics used successfully in Deraa.

“It’s a pattern,” Wasir Taif, executive director of Insan, a human rights group, told the Wall Street Journal. “The operation has two stages: One is siege, to keep people inside and [set up] security checkpoints. Then an army unit arrives, the raids start in coordination with military and security intelligence. They raid homes, break doors, gather families in a room and select from anyone between the ages of 15 and 60 in some cases, and in others they have a list of names to detain.”

The Wall Street Journal says more than 500 people have been rounded up during these raids in Homs over the last day and a half. Insan estimates 8,000 Syrians are currently in detention or missing; various human rights organizations place the death toll at around 600.

The Syrian government claims that the crackdown is targeting “armed terrorist groups,” but the vast majority of protesters have been unarmed and peaceful.

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has shown an increasing willingness to use deadly force in an attempt to quell pro-democracy protests that broke out on January 26. The dynastic Assad regime has been in power for more than 40 years, and many Syrians have had enough.

The protests have spread to other towns and cities across the nation of 21 million, with Banias, Jassim, Tafas and Latakia experiencing demonstrations.

So far demonstrations in the country’s two largest cities– Damascus and Aleppo– have been relatively small and easily contained.

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