Signaling an escalation in the use of force to crack down on protesters, Syria's army stormed the restive city of Daraa Monday, opening firing on civilians and rounding up demonstrators.
Thousands of soldiers with tanks and snipers assaulted the city, killing at least 25 people, residents and activists told the New York Times.
The move by the Syrian army is being seen as a new phase in the regime's efforts to put an end to the five-week-old, anti-government uprising, which began in the southern city of Daraa. Demonstrators have been demanding that President Bashar Assad step down.
It appears that the government, which previously had tried to mix concessions with force, now wants to use only one tactic: to terrorize the people and prevent new demonstrations.
"The massive assault on Daraa appeared to be part of new strategy of crippling, pre-emptive strikes against any opposition to Assad, rather than reacting to demonstrations," the Associated Press states.
It reports that Assad's forces cracked down on the city and cut people off from outside assistance even before the sun rose. Forces cut electricity, water and mobile phone services in the city, and security agents did house-to-house sweeps and erected checkpoints.
“The government has decided to choose the path of violence and repression,” a Syrian analyst in Beirut told the Times. “How far can they go in this repression? That is the question.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is taking its first steps to prepare for action against Assad's regime, the Los Angeles Times reports. White House officials are preparing to freeze U.S. assets of senior Syrian officials and deny them permission to travel to the United States.
European officials are considering taking steps against Assad's regime as well, it states.
The recent wave of protests have posed the greatest threat to four decades of rule by Assad's family. Forces loyal to the regime have killed at least 400 people along the way.