In what many news outlets are calling an escalation of the military campaign against Syria's seven-week-old pro-democracy uprising, President Bashar al-Assad has sent tanks into Homs, a city of one million people 100 miles north of Damascus, in a deadly incursion, according to Reuters (the photo above shows protesters in the central city during Friday's bloody 'Day of Defiance'). Al Jazeera adds that security forces are arresting demonstration organisers and participants in house-by-house raids in Homs, the Mediterranean coastal city of Baniyas, villages near the southern hotbed of Daraa, and several Damascus suburbs. Two people were also reportedly killed by security forces during this night rally in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour yesterday:
The New York Times reflects on the significance of today's headlines, arguing that the "breadth of the assault--from the Mediterranean coast to the poor steppe of southern Syria" appears to "signal the government's intent to end the uprising by force," even though "officials have continued to hint at reforms, and even gingerly reached out to some dissidents last week." As the Syrian regime increasingly resorts to force, the Times adds, they've also cut communications to besieged cities, silencing the human rights groups and activist networks that foreign journalists rely on for news about the uprising. "It seems that they've gotten better in tracking satellite mobile phones," activist Wissam Tarif tells the paper.
In widening its crackdown, Syria may be tapping assistance from its ally, Iran, The Guardian reports this morning, citing "western diplomatic sources in Damascus." The paper's sources say the number of Iranian personnel is Syria has increased since protests began and that the recent door-to-door arrests in Syria are similar to the raids the Iranian regime employed to stamp out the country's "Green Revolution" in 2009. The sources tell the Guardian that Iran's assistance includes "help to monitor internet communications such as Skype ... methods of crowd control, and providing equipment such as batons and riot police helmets." The Times adds that Iran may also be supplying Syria with tear gas and communications equipment to interfere with activists' phones, with one Syrian analyst telling the paper that Iran is the only country the Syrian regime can trust "to back them to the end."