Syrian army keeps stranglehold on Banias

Syria's protest flashpoint town of Banias was completely cut off from the outside world on Tuesday, still encircled by the army three days after a residential neighborhood was strafed by deadly gunfire.

"Security forces and the army continue to assault Banias and we know what they are preparing for us," said Anas al-Shuhri, one of the leaders of the opposition movement challenging the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"There is a shortage of bread in the city, electricity is cut and the majority of phone lines are too," he added.

Several residents of the coastal town, 280 kilometers northwest of Damascus, confirmed Shuhri's testimony.

Abdelbasset, an electrician, told AFP the situation is "extremely bad"

"The army was redeployed outside the city and the security forces and shabiha (regime agents) conducted a number of arrests. The town is dead, shops are closed," he said.

"Banias is surrounded by tanks, no one can get in or out. It is like a prison," said Yasser, a shopkeeper.

"We cannot get bread anymore in Banias. Bread supplies were brought from [the city of] Tartus but that is not enough. The petrol stations are also closed," he added.

Yasser said: "Security forces were responsible for killing soldiers in Banias because they had refused to attack the city," an account which differed sharply from the official version of events.

The official SANA news agency had said nine soldiers, including two officers were killed on Sunday when their patrol was ambushed outside Banias.

The army has encircled Banias since Sunday, when regime agents opened fired on residents, particularly in front of mosques, killing four people and wounding 17, according to witnesses.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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