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AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced dissent within government ranks with more than 200 members of his Baath Party resigning and signs of discontent within the army over the violent repression of pro-democracy protests.
Two hundred party members from Deraa province and surrounding regions resigned on Wednesday after the government sent in tanks to crush resistance in the city of Deraa. At least 35 civilians were killed in the attack, rights groups said.
Diplomats said signs were also emerging of discontent within the army where the majority of troops are Sunni Muslims, but most officers belong to the same minority Alawite sect as Assad.
Assad sent the ultra-loyal Fourth Mechanized Division, commanded by his brother Maher, into Deraa on Monday. Reports from opposition figures and Deraa residents, which could not be confirmed, said that several soldiers from another unit had refused to fire on civilians.
"The largest funerals in Syria so far have been for soldiers who have refused to obey orders to shoot protesters and were summarily executed on the spot," a senior diplomat said.
Another diplomat said there was at least one instance this month of soldiers confronting secret police to stop them shooting at protesters.
11:08pm Another 203 members of Syria's ruling Baath party announced their resignation Wednesday in protest at the deadly crackdown on protesters, raising the number to 233, according to lists seen by AFP