- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Scores of youths have been abducted from cities across Syria in what residents say is a campaign by the state’s security services to stoke sectarian tensions and break the back of a months-long protest against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

In the southwestern city of Daraa, some 8,000 to 10,000 people disappeared in a recent crackdown by security forces, said residents, most of whom spoke to The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity citing concern for their safety.

And in the western city of Homs, the abductions started about two weeks ago. Young men and women, many of them teenagers, were picked up. Most have not been heard from again.

It was not possible to verify the residents’ claims independently because the Syrian government has prevented foreign media from covering its crackdown, in which the U.N. says nearly 3,000 people have been killed.

The Syrian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Syrian residents, the nephew of a member of the recently formed opposition group, the Syrian National Council, is among those who have been kidnapped.

A teenage girl was arrested after security agents accused her of spreading dissent against the Assad regime on Facebook. Her mother’s argument that the family didn’t even own a computer fell on deaf ears.

“They are kidnapping Sunnis and Christians in an attempt to terrorize both communities and sow distrust,” one resident said,

Sunnis make up about 75 percent of Syria’s population; Christians about 10 percent. However, power is vested in the hands of the minority Alawites, an Islamic sect to which Mr. Assad belongs.

The crackdown by the Alawite-led security forces has heightened tensions among the communities.

Meanwhile in Homs, at least 60 civilians have been killed since Friday, when troops armed with heavy artillery and riding in tanks attacked residential neighborhoods, according to residents.

“Women are being raped and houses are being shelled indiscriminately,” said Ausama Monajed, a member of the recently formed opposition Syrian National Council.

“Today, and for the third consecutive day, Homs is still under siege with roads to key neighborhoods such as Khalidiya, Deir Baalba and Bayada completely cut off,” he said.

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said Tuesday that 144 people had been detained in Homs. It said large quantities of ammunition and weapons also had been seized.

The crackdown on Homs has been particularly harsh because as many as 4,000 defectors from the Syrian army are believed to be hiding in the province.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed concern about the Syrian army’s actions.

“We do remain concerned about the activity of the Syrian army inside Syria and its continued violence against its own people and the intimidation and the arrests and the beatings,” she told reporters Tuesday.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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