Syrian troops and tanks swept into the northern coastal town of Baniyas on Saturday to suppress antigovernment demonstrations, tightening the squeeze on a persistent yet largely leaderless opposition movement that persists in staging protests despite a deadly crackdown.
Human rights groups said three women were shot dead in a village outside Baniyas when they joined a demonstration to protest the army's actions, but that otherwise land lines and cell phone services to the town were cut off and no information was emerging about what was happening there.
At least 25 tanks rolled into the town about 2 a.m., according to rights groups. Residents later formed a human chain to try to keep the soldiers away, according to Wissam Tarif of the rights group Insan.
Baniyas, which has emerged as a key protest town, was surrounded by the military and effectively placed under siege a month ago.
The push into Baniyas, on the northern Mediterranean coast, appeared to replicate a similar assault launched nearly two weeks ago in the far southern city of Daraa, where the protest movement started, signaling that President Bashar al-Assad's government remains intent on crushing the uprising that has erupted in recent weeks.
On Saturday, communications were also cut to the city of Homs, north of Damascus, as well as to the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, Tarif said.
A demonstrator was killed and 11 were injured on Saturday in the southern town of al-Maafir when police descended on thousands rallying for the ouster of Yemen's longtime president, activist Nouh al-Wafi said Saturday. The demonstrators were mainly students but were joined later by other residents. In the cities of Aden, Saada and Hodeida, protesters observed a one-day shutdown of offices and businesses as part of a civil disobedience campaign to pressure President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Thousands of people also demonstrated in the southern cities of Ibb and Hadramawt.
Christians and Muslims fought in the streets of western Cairo on Saturday in violence triggered by word of a mixed romance, Egypt's official news agency reported. At least five people were killed and 54 injured. The clashes marked an escalation in tension between Egypt's Muslims and its Coptic Christian minority after President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February. The news agency said the violence Saturday broke out in the Imbaba neighborhood after word spread that a Christian woman had married a Muslim and was being held in a church against her will.
Information from the Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.