DAMASCUS - Amid fears of a looming crackdown on besieged Homs, a general strike began in several cities in Syria on Sunday, December 11, after online activists called on people to join them in a civil disobedience campaign against the government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
The strike is like a protest. It starts with ten people then hundreds until tens of thousands join. Start with yourself, stated the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
The 'Stay at Home' campaign also called on people to stop supporting the regime by halting work.
Starting the calls from Facebook pages, activists changed methods yesterday night, using loudspeakers to urge people to join the strike in the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, in the southern Daraa province.
They also called on people to boycott municipal elections scheduled for Monday.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organizes protests on the ground in Syria, has predicted the campaign would snowball, and said the strike was "the first step in an overall civil disobedience" campaign to overthrow the regime.
Early on Sunday, videos posted online showed shops closed and streets empty in the central province of Homs, the western city of Zabadani and the northern province of Aleppo.
However, Syria state-run media, SANA news agency along with Syria TV, denied reports about strike, saying that Syrians have Rejected the Provocative Calls for a Strike on Sunday.
Economic, social and commercial figures and representatives of service institutions and civil associations rejected instigative calls for a strike on Sunday, circulated through SMS messages and social networking sites, launched by some tendentious parties linked to foreign sides, the state-run agency said.
Peaceful protests against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, were met with massive force as soon as they began in March.
The Assad regime's crackdown on dissent has hit Homs particularly hard and activists say a great number of defecting soldiers have set up camp there to protect protesters.
The regime's crackdown on dissent has killed more than 4,000 people in Syria, according to UN figures.
As strike calls continued, the opposition Syrian National Council and activists have warned of a looming bloody final assault on the city of Homs in central Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also warned of "inhabitants' fears of a large invasion of the city," in a statement issued on Saturday.
"The arrival of hundreds of armored vehicles to the city of Homs during the last two weeks estimated, according to witnesses," to number more than 200, the Britain-based rights watchdog said in the English-language statement cited by Agence France Presse (AFP).
"The spread of security leaks that the regime decided to extinguish the revolution in Homs within 72 hours by giving the security forces and Shabiha (militia) unlimited powers to not be merciful towards the unarmed civilians."
The United States, France and Britain have all warned Damascus against any bloody assault on Homs and said the regime would be held responsible for any heavy loss of life.
The scene was much different in the south.
In Syria southern city of Isra, hundreds of army defectors in southern Syria fought loyalist forces backed by tanks on Sunday in one of the biggest armed confrontations in a nine-month uprising against Assad, residents and activists said.
Troops, mainly from the 12th Armored Brigade, based in Isra, 40 km from the border with Jordan, stormed the nearby town of Busra al-Harir, Reuters reported.
The sound of explosions and heavy machineguns was heard in Busra al-Harir and in Lujah, an area of rocky hills north of the town, where defectors have been hiding and attacking military supply lines, they said.
"Lujah has been the safest area for defectors to hide because it is difficult for tanks and infantry to infiltrate," one of the activists, who gave his name as Abu Omar, said from the town of Isra.
The region has caves and secret passage ways and extends all the way to Damascus countryside.