Beirut, Lebanon – Syrian activists called for daily protests beginning Tuesday in support of thousands of detained antigovernment demonstrators as security forces appeared to broaden the crackdown on dissent in restive cities across the country, including the capital, Damascus, and the historically significant city of Hama, residents and activists said.
Backed by tanks, army troops entered several villages near the southern city of Dara’a, which has become the symbol of Syria’s seven-week uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, residents and activists said. They also said that heavy gunfire was heard Tuesday morning but that it was not clear if there were casualties.
Residents also reported seeing tanks headed from Homs to Hama, both in central Syria, in a sign that the authorities are widening their crackdown on an uprising that has posed the most serious challenge to the government since Mr. Assad inherited power from his father, Hafez, in 2000.
The inclusion of Hama among cities potentially threatened by military action stirred potent memories — Hama is where the Syrian military crushed an Islamist revolt in 1982, killing at least 10,000 people during the long rule of Mr. Assad’s father.
The call for new protests came as the European Union announced sanctions against senior Syrian officials including Mr. Assad’s brother Maher, who heads the elite Republican Guard, for violently dispersing demonstrations.
The Syrian government appears to believe that such actions, while bringing international condemnation, have allowed it to gain the upper hand after weeks of protests, which have faltered in the face of mass arrests and hundreds of deaths.
On the Facebook page of Syrian Revolution 2011, an Internet-based opposition group, activists called for a “Tuesday of solidarity with prisoners of conscience in the jails of the Syrian criminal regime,” adding that “the demonstration will continue every day.”
Residents in Deir Zour, in northeastern Syria, said at least four people were killed there, including two security officials. It was not clear how they died.
In Damascus, security forces reinforced their presence, setting up more checkpoints and sending out more patrols, residents said.