Syrian troops have detained more than 3,000 people in the past three days in the town of Rastan, activists told The Associated Press on Monday.
The activists told the news agency the troops were going house to house and arresting citizens. One activist said that the detainees are being held at a cement factory as well as in some schools.
Rastan has seen a bloody fight between the military and hundreds of army defectors who sided with anti-regime protesters. The fighting heightened fears that Syria may be sliding toward civil war.
Until now, Syria’s opposition movement has focused on peaceful demonstrations. Last week, however, dozens of Assad’s troops defected and joined the protesters, taking refuge in Homs and launching an armed campaign against the regime’s troops.
The dissident army’s leader said last week that “it is the beginning of an armed rebellion” against President Bashar Assad and that “you cannot remove this regime except by force and bloodshed.”
The fears of civil war were heightened by Sunday’s killing of the son of Syria’s Grand Mufti.
There were conflicting reports as to who killed Saria Hassoun, son of the Grand Mufti Badreddin Hassoun. AP noted that the Grand Mufti is considered a loyal supporter of Assad’s regime, strengthening speculations that his son may have been killed by opposition forces.
The killing was the latest in a series of targeted executions of prominent people including a nuclear engineer, university professors and physicians. The men were all killed in the past week, most of them in central Homs province.
The regime has accused “terrorists” of the killings, while the opposition in turn accused the regime.
Meanwhile, the United States announced on Monday that it will impose additional sanctions on Syria.
The Treasury Department said that it will prohibit American companies from selling telecommunications equipment to the Syrian government, but not to all private firms. The sanctions include sales of telecom equipment or technology, including “satellite or terrestrial network connectivity.”