SYRIAN security forces carried out arrests and set fire to homes overnight, activists reported, at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan during which a rights group said 473 people were killed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 16 people were arrested in Houle, 20 kilometres from Homs, where the authorities sparked anger on Monday as they returned the bodies of 13 people arrested in early August.
The Local Coordination Committees, grouping activists on the ground, said security forces set fire to the homes of two men in Houle and threatened to arrest their wives and children if they did not surrender.
In the village of Aqrab, security forces burned down another house and carried out searches and arrests, “terrorising” residents at the start of the Eid holidays which follow Ramadan, the committees said.
They said that in Hama province, central Syria, opposition figure Mustafa Rostom was arrested from his home by military intelligence agents who prevented him from taking medicines with him although he has health problems.
Elsewhere in the province, tanks were deployed in Al-Qussur and security forces massed in Al-Hader, according to the Coordination Committees. More widespread arrests were carried out.
The Britain-based Observatory said 360 civilians and 113 members of the security forces and army were killed during protests during the just-ended Muslim fasting month.
The civilians included 25 people under 18, 14 women and 28 who died in detention or under torture, the Observatory said, mainly in the central province of Homs.
Almost daily protests have taken place against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since mid-March, defying a crackdown which according to UN figures has killed at least 2,200 people.
Amnesty International said in a separate report that it had heard of 88 deaths in custody between April 1 and August 15, including 10 children aged between 13 and 18.
For at least 52 of them, Amnesty said “there is evidence that torture caused or contributed to the deaths”, citing signs of violent beatings, burn marks and cuts.
Some had been mutilated “before or after death in particularly grotesque ways apparently intended to strike terror into the families to whom their corpses were returned”.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in his annual address to France’s top diplomats overnight, said Mr Assad’s actions had caused “irreparable” damage to his legitimacy and vowed to support his overthrow.
“The regime in Damascus wrongly believes it is safe from its own people,” Mr Sarkozy said. “What the Syrian president has done is irreparable. France, with its partners, will do all that is legally possible in order that the Syrian people’s hopes for freedom and democracy are triumphant.”