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Syrian President: Military Operation in Daraa Will End 'Soon'

Protesters with pieces of bread shout slogans during a demonstration to show their solidarity with the protesters in Daraa, in the Syrian port city of Banias, May 3, 2011

A Middle Eastern daily has reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the military operation in the southern flashpoint city of Daraa will end "very soon."

Assad was quoted Wednesday in Al Watan. The military has placed the city of Daraa under siege since April 25 following anti-government protests that started as calls for reform and developed into calls for the president's ouster.

Syrian security forces have intensified their crackdown on opposition protesters, detaining more than 1,000 people in recent days as international condemnation of Assad's government widens.

The head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, Ammar Qurabi, said Tuesday that urban areas have witnessed "an insane escalation by authorities who are arresting anyone with the potential to stage protests."

Other rights groups, including Amnesty International, allege security forces have beaten male detainees in the arrest campaign that also has included women, teenagers and the elderly.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its website that hundreds of people arrested have been charged Tuesday with "degrading the prestige of the state." The offense carries a three-year prison sentence.

Rights groups say at least 560 civilians have been killed in the nationwide unrest. Foreign media have been banned from Syria, making it almost impossible to confirm the reports.

Despite the crackdown, thousands of protesters continued to demonstrate Tuesday in the northern city of Aleppo and the coastal city of Banias. Activists said protesters carried loaves of bread to symbolize their solidarity with Daraa's embattled population.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that Syrian government actions amount to the collective punishment of innocent civilians.

His comments came hours after France and Germany announced they are asking the European Union to impose sanctions on Syrian leaders in response to the violent crackdown.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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