Syrian tanks used to quell clashes

Troops have retaken control of the central Syrian city of Rastan after sending in 250 tanks to quell clashes between the army and deserters, human rights activists said on Sunday.

“The Syrian army has taken complete control of Rastan and 50 tanks left on Sunday,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said of the town in Homs province, 160km north of Damascus.

“Many houses have been destroyed there and the humanitarian situation is very bad,” the Britain-based rights watchdog said.

“We have information that dozens of civilians were killed and buried in the gardens of houses as the army shelled the town,” it added.

Officers who had deserted announced their “retreat from Rastan” in a statement on Friday night.

“Because of major reinforcements and the weapons used in Rastan by [President Bashar al-] Assad’s gangs … we have decided to withdraw in order to better wage the struggle for liberty,” the statement said.

The Assad regime’s deadly crackdown on dissent continued on Saturday with fresh violence claiming more lives. Three people were reported killed in clashes in Rastan between the army and deserters.

On Sunday, the bodies of two civilians detained several days ago were returned to their families in Khan Sheikhun near the border with Turkey in Idlib province in the north west.

Activists used the Internet to call for protests at universities in Aleppo, Damascus, Deir Ezzor, Homs and Latakia on Sunday.

“Today [Sunday] is the day of the universities uprising. Everyone knows the fear the universities inspire in the regime,” said a statement on “The Syrian Revolution 2011” Facebook page.

The Syrian Observatory on Sunday reported the arrest in Homs the previous day of Mansur Atassi (63) a leader of a coalition of opposition groups, saying he was detained in his office by security agents.

The official SANA news agency said a train driver and his helper were injured in an accident caused by an “armed terrorist group” at Ubin in Idlib province.

“An armed terrorist group targeted a freight train this morning [Sunday], wounding the driver and co-driver and causing three cars to derail,” it said.

Al-Assad’s regime blames the violence raging for more than six months in Syria on “armed groups”.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has said the death toll from the bloody crackdown has risen to more than 2 700 since March 15. — AFP

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