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Syria moves to crush rebel stronghold of Daraa

Security forces sweep into city where revolt began

BEIRUT - Gathering confidence after flushing rebels from strongholds in the north, the Syrian government Wednesday launched its biggest raid in months on the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against President Bashar Assad began a year ago, opposition activists said.

The activists feared that the government was emboldened after seizing most of the northern city of Idlib Tuesday amid faltering international efforts to stop the violence and had turned its attention to crushing centers of the rebellion in the south as the symbolically important one-year mark of the uprising approached.

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Thursday is the anniversary of protests in Daraa that followed the killing of schoolchildren who had scrawled antigovernment graffiti. Those demonstrations turned what had been sporadic protests into a nationwide uprising that has become the most deadly of the Arab revolts.

There have been regular clashes in Daraa, but today the situation is different, with about 150 tanks and many busloads of security forces sweeping the city from the west, said Anwar Fares, an antigovernment activist.

“It is the most violent military raid on Daraa since April 25,’’ Fares said. Fares lamented that Assad seemed to feel he has a freer hand in recent weeks.

“He is taking his sweet time,’’ he said.

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