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Syrian forces detain hundreds in raids, at checkpoints

Syrian forces heaped more punishment Tuesday on residents of restive towns, detaining hundreds in raids or at checkpoints, firing on people trying to retrieve the bodies of anti-government protesters and even shooting holes in rooftop water tanks in a region parched by drought, witnesses said.

In the southern city of Daraa, where Syrian army tanks and snipers killed at least 34 people in two days, a resident said security forces shot and killed a man as he walked out of the main Omari mosque and shouted at them: "Enough! Enough! Enough! Stop killing your brothers!"

The crackdown by President Bashar Assad has intensified since Friday, when more than 100 people were killed. Security forces also conducted raids in the Damascus suburb of Douma and the northern coastal town of Jableh.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 400 have been killed since mid-March as the Assad regime has tried to crush the uprising. But instead of intimidating protesters, it has emboldened them, and their calls for modest reforms have now become demands for Assad's ouster.

European leaders escalated their criticism of the Syrian crackdown, with the French president calling the current situation "unacceptable" and Britain's foreign minister raising the possibility of sanctions. The Arab League said those in the region demanding freedom and democracy "require support, and not shooting with bullets."

Syrian residents contacted by the Associated Press on Tuesday reported hundreds of people detained in Daraa, Jableh and outlying neighborhoods of Damascus -- either seized at checkpoints or in dawn raids.

Daraa residents braved fire from snipers and other troops to pull bullet-riddled bodies of protesters killed Monday off the streets and hide them from security forces, witnesses said.

One man, Zaher Ahmad Ayyash, was killed as he tried to retrieve the bodies of two brothers, Taysir and Yaser al-Akrad, said a resident, who asked to be identified only as Abdullah.

Snipers also targeted Daraa's water supply, shooting holes in rooftop tanks -- the last source of clean water for many residents, Abdullah said.

Troops cut off electricity to Daraa on Friday, and most food has spoiled in refrigerators.

Palestinian refugees living in the area smuggled flour, water, bread and canned food into town. "We are so grateful to them," one resident said.

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, which saw an intense crackdown Monday, houses were raided again at dawn Tuesday, with forces detaining anyone suspected of participating in demonstrations. Soldiers at checkpoints also held men deemed suspicious. Phone service was cut off.

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