As Syria's government continues a brutal crackdown on protesters, the New York Times' Anthony Shadid was allowed into the country for a few hours yesterday. A senior official told him the Syrian government has gained the upper hand over a seven-week uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
It's the clearest sign yet that the leadership believes its crackdown will crush protests that have begun to falter in the face of hundreds of deaths and mass arrests. Anthony Shadid joins us to talk about this rare peek into the workings of the Syrian government.
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Update On Syrian Crackdown
By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEIRUT - Syrian troops backed by tanks entered several southern villages near the flashpoint city of Daraa on Tuesday as the government pressed its efforts to end a nationwide uprising, an activist said.
The activist said heavy gunfire was heard when the troops entered Inkhil, Dael, Jassem, Sanamein and Nawa after midnight. It was not clear if there were casualties, he said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
In recent weeks, army troops carried out an 11-day operation in Daraa that killed more than 80 people, residents and activists said. The city, near the Jordanian border, has been cut off for the past two weeks.
President Bashar Assad has dispatched troops and tanks to many areas to crush the seven-week uprising that poses the most serious challenge to his family's 40-year rule.
The regime appears determined to crush the uprising by force and intimidation, despite rapidly growing international outrage and a death toll that - according to rights groups - has topped 630 civilians since the unrest began.
Human rights activist Mustafa Osso said some of the most intense operations were taking place in the Damascus suburb of Maadamiyeh, which has been sealed for days. He said telecommunications have been cut and checkpoints were preventing anyone from entering or leaving the area.
"Maadamiyeh is isolated from the rest of the world," Osso said.
The army was also conducting operations in the coastal city of Banias, the central city of Homs, and the northern city of Deir el-Zor, Osso said.
"Any area where there are demonstrations, the government is sending the army," he said.
Rights groups said hundreds of people have been detained over the past few days in different areas.
Also Tuesday, a religious leader who resigned last month in disgust over the killings of protesters in the province of Daraa withdrew his resignation. Sheikh Rizq Abdul-Rahim Abazeid, mufti of the Daraa region, resigned April 23 after shootings by security forces killed scores of people.
"I cannot tolerate the blood of our innocent sons and children being shed," Abazeid told The Associated Press after stepping down. But in an interview with a Syrian satellite TV channel, Abazeid said his resignation was a result of "severe pressure and intimidation," including death threats.
In neighboring Jordan, Jordanian taxi driver Shadi Zouebi said he was mistreated while in Syrian custody for three weeks. The man, who ferries passengers and goods between Jordan and Syria, refused to provide details.
Jordanian newspapers reported that Syrian intelligence agents pushed his head into a toilet and beat him so badly that he considered committing suicide.
Zouebi is the first of 20 Jordanians held by Syria to be freed under negotiations by Jordan's Foreign Ministry.
The government's heavy-handed response to the widespread protests has triggered new international sanctions.
On Monday, the European Union imposed an arms embargo. The measure, which followed U.S. sanctions, also prohibits 13 Syrian government officials from traveling anywhere in the 27-nation EU and freezes their assets.
Trying to increase the pressure on Assad's regime, the United States has imposed sanctions targeting three senior Syrian officials as well as Syria's intelligence agency and the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, a key Syrian ally.
The United Nations said Monday that a planned humanitarian mission had not been allowed access to Daraa.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the mission was postponed until later this week, and she was trying to find out why the initial plan was thwarted.
The unrest gripping Syria was triggered by the arrests of teenagers caught scrawling anti-government graffiti on walls in Daraa. Despite boasts by Assad that his nation was immune from the kind of uprisings sweeping the Arab world, protests against his rule quickly spread across the country of 23 million people.
Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has blamed "armed thugs" and foreigners. The regime has hit back at protesters with large-scale military operations.
Syria has also banned foreign media and restricted access for reporters to many parts of the country, making it difficult to independently confirm witness accounts of the violence.
This segment aired on May 10, 2011.