Syrian tanks rolled into the Mediterranean coastal town of Banias today in an escalating crackdown by President Bashar Assad, a day after clashes with anti-government protesters left at least 30 dead nationwide, activists and an eyewitness said. Details of the troop deployment in Banias, for weeks the scene of demonstrations demanding regime change, were scarce as phone lines and other communications were mostly cut off. "Banias is now surrounded from all directions, not a single person can go in or out," said the eyewitness.
An eyewitness said tanks moved into the seaside area and were stationed in at least three Sunni villages just south of Banias, adding that soldiers were carrying out house-to-house searches and arrests. Banias, which has an oil refinery and is the main point of export for Syrian oil, has a potentially explosive mix of religious groups and sects. It is divided between Sunni Muslims and Alawites—the sect of the ruling Assad family and many senior officials. Activists in touch with townspeople confirmed his account, saying the town, which had become a leading focus of anti-regime demonstrations, was now completely besieged. The UN said today it is sending a team into Syria to investigate the situation, and the European Union is expected to place sanctions on Syrian officials next week.