Tensions high in Abu Kamal, Homs, Zabadani

Soldiers were carried by helicopter to the eastern town of Abu Kamal, a site of protests near the main crossing point to neighboring Iraq, Al-Arabiya television reported.

The move came a day after gunmen killed three Syrian security personnel and abducted two officers in Abu Kamal, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said today.

The Syrian forces surrounded the town and appeared to be preparing for a major military operation to quell dissent there, residents told the Guardian newspaper.

Al-Watan, a pro-government newspaper, reported on Sunday that the situation in Albokamal was “explosive” and that the army was “preparing to intervene.”

Video footage from the town purported to show residents celebrating the defection of the soldiers by clambering on to tanks and chanting the Egyptian revolutionary slogan: “The people and the army are one hand.”

Al-Watan today said that protesters had “paralysed” the city on Sunday evening leading some residents to flee to Deir ez-Zor, 125km to the south. The newspaper said the violence was proof that there is a campaign backed by foreign powers to destabilise Syria’s borders so weapons and money can be smuggled into the country.

Major operations in border areas have been common in the past four months as the government has tried to snuff out the uprising with a mix of concessions and force.

Syrian troops backed by tanks entered Zabadani, a town near the border with Lebanon, on Sunday as security forces rounded up more than 500 people, including a leading opposition figure, across the country over the past two days, activists told Reuters.

In Homs, factional fighting is believed to have claimed the lives of about 30 people, in what some are calling the first instance of sectarian fighting since the uprising began in March, however these events are disputed.

Homs, Syria’s third largest city, has been a focal point of the Syrian uprising since the military stormed it two months ago to try to crush street protests calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down after 11 years in power.

Local media also reported a general strike in Idleb, which the government said it was “trying to contain.”

Qatari Embassy closes after anti-Al-Jazeera protests

Qatar’s embassy in Damascus has suspended its mission after government supporters attacked the building housing it in protests against Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the uprising.

A Syrian employee at the embassy told Al-Watan newspaper: “Members of the Qatari diplomatic mission told us that work in the embassy is suspended and all diplomats and its consular affairs section will leave for Qatar.”

Last week, supporters of the Syrian government threw stones, eggs and tomatoes at the embassy in protest against the Doha-based Al Jazeera’s coverage of the unrest.

Large pro-government rally held in Damascus

A huge pro-government rally took place in central Damascus on Sunday night.

Youth brigades marched through the capital in the late afternoon playing military songs before gathering in Umawyeen Square where singers performed nationalist political songs and there was a fireworks display.

According to Al-Watan newspaper, the purpose of the rally, which was announced on Saturday by text messages sent out on the country’s two mobile networks, was to “swear loyalty to the country and support Mr al-Assad’s programme of reform.”

Syria Today (Syria)