Hundred of arrests were reported across Syria on Sunday as troops strengthened their presence in Daraa. The city, an epicenter of anti-regime protests, has been under siege by government forces for the past week.
The crackdown continues in Daraa, the epicenter of protests
The Syrian military beefed up its presence in Daraa on Sunday, with eyewitnesses describing a convoy of armored vehicles and buses packed with troops entering the city.
Security forces arrested hundreds of people across the country during the day, but Daraa - seen as a hotbed of resistance - proved to be the focal point. Troops were reported to have systematically swept through neighborhoods with residents claiming that all males over the age of 15 were being arrested in some districts.
One witness told the television news network Al Jazeera that forces had divided the city into four parts, cutting them off from each other, and that the troops were gathering detainees in schools before transferring them to a detention center.
Local residents said the city's hilltop Old Quarter, known as Karak, bore the brunt of repeated shelling on Saturday as troops ratchet up the pressure in an attempt to crush the rebellion.
Pro- and anti-regime protesters took to the streets Friday
Witnesses said snipers were also posted on rooftops and had taken up positions atop the Omari Mosque in Karak after taking control of the Old Quarter for the first time.
Others said that troops had gone door-to-door in targeted searches to arrest suspected activists.
Daraa, a city of 120,000 near the border to Jordan, is the cradle of the six-week uprising against the regime of Presiden Bashar Assad, which began with demands for more freedom and an end to corruption.
Despite massive military deployments in Daraa and elsewhere with mass arrests, demonstrators on Saturday again took to the streets calling for Assad's ouster.
A pro-goverment demonstrator in Damascus on Saturday
Under intense international pressure, Damascus on Saturday announced a proposal for reforms. Newly appointed Prime Minister Adel Safar said his government would draw up a "complete plan" of political, judicial and economic reforms, state news agency SANA said on Saturday.
The government has given local journalists a tour around some old quarters in Damascus to dispute allegations that the country is witnessing mass protests demanding the end of the Syrian regime.
Syrian pro-government supporters shouted slogans as they carried pictures of the Syrian president on the tour route and held signs that read "sedition is worse than killing" and "your men support you."
UN and western condemnation
But the brutal crackdown has prompted Western countries to impose sanctions against Syrian government figures and institutions.
Speaking on the BBC on Sunday, British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the crackdown and the killing of civilians as "disgraceful and unacceptable." He said the international community needed to work together to put more pressure on the regime.
Estimates of the death toll since mid-March stand at over 600, but the figures cannot be confirmed independently.
The United Nations Human Rights Council, meanwhile, has passed a resolution condemning the violent crackdown.
The resolution, however, was greatly watered down by extensive infighting. As a result, the European Union has moved toward an arms embargo of its own against Syria.
Tough statement fails to win support
The United States, which requested the emergency UN rights session, submitted a very tough statement and US Ambassador Eileen Donahoe appealed to the council to pass the resolution.
"Where a government is turning live ammunition on their own population, sending in troops, preventing people from crossing borders, going into hospitals, sending snipers," she said, "the international community cannot stand by and allow that to proceed without notice."
Unlike a similar motion against Libya eight weeks ago, this time there was no unanimity. The Syrian ambassador accused the West of displaying a colonial attitude.
Some 30 civilians were reported killed Friday in Daraa
Pakistani Ambassador Zamir Akram, who was speaking on behalf of Organization of the Islamic Conference, a body intended to represent the Muslim world at the UN, also rejected what he described as meddling that was masquerading as human rights protection.
"What we are witnessing today are attempts by certain countries to create precedents for the promotion of the doctrine of interference in the internal affairs of states on flimsy grounds of humanitarian concerns," he said.
EU sanctions for Syria
On Friday, the European Union reached a preliminary agreement to impose sanctions against Syria.
EU member nations gave their initial approval to an arms embargo on Syria, as well as a ban on equipment used for repression, such as body armor, explosives and vehicles used to carry weapons.
The EU also said it plans to review its aid program to Syria, which totals 43 million euros ($64 million) annually.
Author: Gregg Benzow, Imogen Foulkes, Holly Fox, Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James