Unrest expands to Syrian university

Military moves into port city on Mediterranean

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post / April 12, 2011

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CAIRO — Syria’s military moved into the Mediterranean port of Banias early yesterday, human rights workers and activists said, a day after at least 13 people, including four demonstrators and nine members of the state’s security forces, were killed in violent clashes there.

Other antigovernment activists reported that the unrest in Syria had reached Damascus University, Syria’s oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning, in the nation’s capital.

A demonstration by up to 1,500 university students turned violent yesterday when security forces raided the gathering. Protesters said one student was killed, the Associated Press reported. There were conflicting reports about whether the student was shot or beaten to death.

Opponents of the Assad family’s dynasty said that their numbers appear to be increasing. “We are like a snowball that’s getting bigger every day,’’ said Haitham al-Maleh, a longtime opposition lawyer in Damascus who was recently released from prison.

The nearly monthlong wave of protests has claimed an estimated 170 lives so far and presented the fiercest challenge to President Bashar Assad and his ruling Ba’ath Party since his taking over upon the death of his father 11 years ago.

Thousands on both sides of the escalating conflict attended the funeral services yesterday for those who were killed Sunday, said Nadim Houry, senior researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division.

Houry also said his organization — and even activists in Syria — have had difficulty determining the death toll from Sunday’s violence.

Maleh said four protesters died in Banias on Sunday. Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported yesterday that nine members of the armed forces, including two officers, had been killed near Banias in a clash on the highway to Latakia.

The agency said that an additional 32 people, including four civilians, had been injured in that clash, including an ambulance driver and an undetermined number of emergency medical personnel when their vehicle came under fire.

The Syrian government has expelled many media organizations, and frequent outages of Internet and mobile phone service have hampered efforts by human rights workers and others to follow events inside the tightly regulated country.

The Syrian government has blamed the killings on “armed groups’’ that ambushed the military convoy outside the city, a seaport that human rights activists said had been cut off by security forces Sunday.

But videos smuggled out of the country and posted on Facebook and played on Al Jazeera have shown scenes from Daraa and other cities that show torched cars, demonstrators burning images of Assad, and snatching up tear gas canisters and throwing them back at security forces.

Others depict people spraying gunfire from car windows and a group of what appear to be security forces beating a man with clubs and dragging away a body.

Over the weekend, activists called for continuous demonstrations every day that would climax this Friday, the Muslim prayer day.

The president has promised reforms, including revising the hated emergency decree in place since 1963, shaken up his government, and repealed a measure banning citizenship to ethnic Kurds, but has so far been unable to restore order. top stories on Twitter

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