Syrian security forces detained dozens of opposition activists and fired from rooftops in a seaside town Sunday as authorities turned to pinpoint raids after days of bloodshed brought international condemnation and defections from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The strategy, described by a rights activist, appeared aimed at rattling the opposition’s leadership and showing that despite last week’s lifting of emergency laws in place nearly 50 years, the state’s ability to conduct arrest sweeps has not changed.

The rising level of violence — more than 120 people killed since Friday — brought calls from the group Human Rights Watch for a United Nations inquiry. But Sunday’s tactics also suggest a government effort to head off more protest marches.

The police raids, which began late Saturday, were concentrated in the capital, Damascus, and the central city of Homs, a hub of demonstrations against Assad’s authoritarian rule, said Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

“These people are not being arrested in a legal way. They are being kidnapped,” Qurabi said, asserting that the plainclothes security agents did not have formal arrest warrants.

Qurabi did not know the total number of those detained, but he said at least 20 people were arrested in Homs. A resident in the Damascus suburb of Douma said that at least five people were taken into custody and that authorities cut Internet and telephone services.

Later, security forces moved into the coastal town of Jableh, claiming they were searching for weapons, Qurabi said. He cited witnesses who said that police and army units opened fire from rooftops even though there were no apparent threats and no protests underway. At least one person was killed and three were wounded, he said.

Associated Press