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Syrian army storms coastal city

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Violence continues in Syria
  • NEW: 4 women are killed in a nearby village, witnesses say
  • 26 people were killed Friday, a human rights group says
  • Mass arrests are reported in Banias
  • In Homs, funeral processions turn into anti-regime protests

(CNN) -- Syrian tanks and troops stormed a village near the Mediterranean city of Banias on Saturday, killing at least four women and injuring several others, witnesses said.

Residents of Marquab formed a human chain to thwart the military but soldiers raided homes and opened fire, said witnesses who were not identified for security reasons.

A group of frightened and angry women fled to a mosque in the central square and demanded the release of family members who had been arbitrarily arrested, witnesses told CNN. The security forces opened fire.

Witnesses said the army then rolled into Banias. They reported heavy gunfire and severe damage to the city.

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A teacher told CNN that "10,000 of us marched through the city of Banias yesterday carrying olive branches, and today our city is under siege."

A lawyer who was in the Marquab square reported men in army uniforms dispersed throughout the city and plainclothes snipers on rooftops. He asked why the international community was turning its back on his people.

"We have a crime in Syria called protests. The punishment is death," he said.

Communications were cut off and information was limited but Ammar Qurabi, chairman of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, told CNN that authorities had made mass arrests of protesters in the Banias area.

The state-run Syrian news agency said security forces were continuing pursuit of "members of the terrorist groups" in Banias as well as the southern city of Daraa, the hub of Syria's six-week uprising.

''A number of wanted terrorist members were arrested and weapons and ammunition used by these groups in attacks against the army and citizens and in terrorizing people were seized," SANA reported.

A wave of nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad on Friday left at least 26 activists and 10 security officers dead.

The National Organization for Human Rights said it "holds the Syrian authorities fully responsible for the crimes committed against the defenseless Syrian people." The group urged the international community to apply pressure on al-Assad to stop "using the method of brutal repression against its citizens."

Seven of the 26 protesters were buried Saturday in the restive city of Homs, where thousands chanted anti-regime slogans in funeral processions.

Security forces and army units were present along Hom's main thoroughfares and city gates but did not interfere in the funeral procession, said a witness who did not want to be identified for security reasons. After the funerals, Homs was deserted with shops shuttered and people too frightened to leave their homes.

CNN has not been granted access into Syria and is unable to independently verify witness accounts.

But CNN has spoken with witnesses, some of whom have posted homemade videos and reported what they see via social networking sites. Human rights organizations have also compiled reports.

Demonstrations have broken out across provinces and cities in Syria over the past six weeks, with security forces relying heavily on the army and the regime's guard to disperse demonstrations.

Amnesty International estimates 500 people have been killed in the clashes. In the past seven days alone, Qurabi said 3,000 people have been arrested.

So many people were arrested that the army and security forces converted a central stadium in the city of Daraa into a makeshift prison, he said. Daraa has borne the brunt of the Syrian government's crackdown and human rights groups have called on al-Assad to lift a siege there.

The demonstrations and government crackdown have garnered widespread international attention from many nations, the European Union and the United Nations.

On Friday, the White House press secretary condemned the Syrian government's use of violence and mass arrests, and saluted "the courage of Syrian protesters for insisting on their right to express themselves, and we regret the loss of life on all sides."

In a statement Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was troubled by the Syrian government's use of force and intimidation against its people.

"I am particularly troubled by ongoing reports of deaths of citizens at the hands of the Syrian government, including accounts (Friday) that at least 30 people were killed when Syrian security forces again opened fire on peaceful protesters throughout the country," Clinton said.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz and Rima Maktabi contributed to this report.