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Mass arrests in Syria's Daraa mark rising tension

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Syrian regime soldiers, seen here in the city of Daraa, have been conducting arrests on a large scale in the southern province. [Photo courtesy of Jumaa al-Masalma]

High tension prevails in the southern province of Daraa sparked by the mass arrest of men and women of all ages being carried out by Syrian regime forces, a local activist said.

The roundup of civilians appears to be a revenge campaign, carried out by the regime despite the reconciliation agreements struck with opposition groups and residents that led to the cessation of hostilities, said activist Jumaa al-Masalma.

After a short period of calm following the activation of the agreements, regime forces began carrying out a large number of arrests, he told Diyaruna, concentrating their efforts on rural Daraa and the Yarmouk basin.

To avoid being accused of violating the provisions of the agreements, he said, "the regime has been carrying out arrests using criminal security units after fabricating mostly criminal charges against the wanted individuals".

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Youth in Daraa province appear before a status settlement committee. [Photo courtesy of Jumaa al-Masalma]

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The Syrian regime has been using the post office in Daraa as a security headquarters, and has been bringing detainees there for interrogation. [Photo courtesy of Jumaa al-Masalma]

Some charges are based on individual complaints, he added, while others are based on traffic, construction or other violations.

Some who were detained and later released said they had been tortured and questioned about themselves and the region when it was under the control of opposition groups, al-Masalma said.

They were asked what they knew about weapons caches buried underground, or the burial sites of slain regime soldiers and fighters from affiliated militias.

No action taken

As the arrests mounted, al-Masalma said, a complaint was made to the Russian side at the reconciliation office, but no action was taken and the situation remained as it was.

Tensions are likely to rise, he added, noting that the regime is known to have lists of the names of hundreds of individuals it wants for questioning.

Daraa residents fear the arrests will be conducted on a wider scale as the agreed-upon grace period for those who are required to report for mandatory military or reserve duty nears its end, he said.

Youth in the region are refusing to respond to the calls to report following the regime's recent actions, he noted, which leaves them no option but to "engage in direct confrontation with regime forces or remain out of sight".

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