- Associated Press - Sunday, April 24, 2011

BEIRUT | Syrian security forces detained dozens of opposition activists and others in raids Sunday launched less than a week after President Bashar Assad’s regime abolished emergency laws used for decades to crush dissent, a human-rights activist said.

Meanwhile, in the coastal town of Jableh, witnesses said army troops and police opened fire from rooftop positions even though no protest was in progress, killing one person and wounding several others. The reports said that angry residents later blocked the main highway linking the cities of Tartous and Latakia to protest the attack.

The police sweeps, which began late Saturday, reinforce opposition claims that the repeal of the nearly 50-year-old state of emergency codes offers no protection against blitz-style detentions by Mr. Assad’s forces.

Also Sunday, the watchdog group Human Rights Watch called for a U.N. inquiry into Syria’s widening crackdown on opposition protesters that has left more than 120 dead in recent days and brought some resignations in protest from Mr. Assad’s regime.

“I pay my respect to the martyrs,” said Bashir Mohammed al-Zoebi, one of two provincial council members who left their posts Sunday in the southern region of Daraa, which has the highest death toll in the country.

Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said the arrests concentrated on the capital, Damascus, and suburbs as well as the central city of Homs, which has been a hotbed of demonstrations against Mr. Assad’s authoritarian rule.

“These people are not being arrested in a legal way. They are being kidnapped,” Mr. Qurabi said, claiming the plainclothes security agents did not have formal arrest warrants.

Mr. Qurabi did not have full figures for those detained, but he said at least 20 people were arrested in Homs.

A resident in the Damascus suburb of Douma said at least five people were arrested and authorities cut Internet and telephone connections.

One leading activist, Daniel Soaud, was among those arrested, but he was released Sunday.

Mr. Qurabi said most of the detainees are expected to be brought before judicial authorities Monday and charged with demonstrating without permission.

Under the new rules that replaced the emergency laws Thursday, Interior Ministry approval is needed to stage protest marches — which is widely interpreted as simply creating a de facto ban on demonstrations.

More than 300 people have been killed — including more than 120 on Friday and Saturday — since the uprising against Mr. Assad’s regime began five weeks ago, according to rights groups.

Friday was the deadliest day since the uprising began, with 112 killed, rights groups said.

“After Friday’s carnage, it is no longer enough to condemn the violence,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “Faced with the Syrian authorities shoot-to-kill strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters.”

The group also urged the United States and European Union to impose sanctions against Syrian officials accused of using force against demonstrators.

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