Syrian troops storm town, 3 killed

Syrian security troops in tanks have entered a Mediterranean coastal town after a deadly day of nationwide protests demanding regime change, while three women were shot dead at a nearby rally, according to activists.
In this picture taken Friday by a member of the public on a mobile phone and acquired by the Associated Press, Syrian anti-government protesters carry a banner during a rally in the central city of Homs. (Associated Press)

Syrian security troops in tanks have entered a Mediterranean coastal town after a deadly day of nationwide protests demanding regime change, while three women were shot dead at a nearby rally, according to activists.

Several activists, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said electricity and phone lines with the town of Banias and the surrounding area were cut off on Saturday.

They said the army moved in overnight, following Friday's clashes with anti-government protesters that claimed 30 lives.

Three women taking part in an all-women's march on a highway into Banias were later shot and killed, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights. The women were protesting the siege and the cutting of electricity and phone lines when they were shot by plainclothes security forces or pro-government thugs.

The moves raised fears of a large-scale military operation in Banias, similar to the one carried out in the flashpoint southern city of Daraa.

Rights groups say more than 580 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed in the seven-week uprising against President Bashar Assad's autocratic regime.

Assad is determined to crush the revolt that has now become the gravest challenge to his family's 40-year dynasty. He has tried a combination of brute force, intimidation and promises of reform to quell the unrest, but his attempts have failed so far.