Finally, Deraa has some relief, only for another city to receive the same fate.
"Syria said on Thursday army units have begun to leave Deraa, the heart of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but residents described a city still under siege.
Soldiers also raided homes across the country as President Bashar al-Assad grappled with the most serious challenge of his 11-year authoritarian rule.
Assad had ordered the army to enter Deraa, where demonstrations calling for more freedoms and later for his overthrow started in March, 10 days ago.
Activists and residents said soldiers backed by tanks had shelled and machine-gunned the city's old quarter and rounded people up in mass arrests.
State news agency SANA quoted an official military source as saying the army had completed its mission, arresting elements of "terrorist" groups and restoring security, peace and stability.
Two witnesses who were heading out of the city told Reuters that around 30 tanks on armored carriers had left the city heading north. They said Syrian army units backed with armor remained deployed at several entrances to the city.
Deraa residents who live in Deraa's Mahatta area said at least six tanks were deployed near government installations and public squares and snipers were poised atop building near Tishrin Square.
They also said security forces had allowed people to move freely until 2 p.m. (7 a.m. EDT) when a curfew was imposed.
"There are security barriers every 100 meters. The security forces have not left yet. They are still spread everywhere in the Balad," said one resident who called himself Abu Jasem.
Pictures of the 45-year-old president have reappeared on business and shop windows, resident said. Infuriated by the crackdown, enraged protesters in Deraa had hauled down a statue of Assad's father, Hafez, on March 24.
Rights groups say at least 560 civilians have been killed since the protests erupted in Deraa on March 18, before spreading to other centers. Officials, who blame armed groups for the violence, give a much lower death toll and say half those killed have been security forces.
Elsewhere, residents said soldiers had made arrests in the Damascus suburb of Saqba and tightened sieges on two defiant urban centers before the Muslim day of prayer on Friday.
The noon prayer is the only time Syrians are permitted to gather legally, and hence the day of the biggest demonstrations and often bloodiest confrontations.
A female resident, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters that hundreds of soldiers in combat gear had broken into houses and made arrests overnight in Saqba, where thousands had demanded Assad's overthrow last week.
"They cut off communications before they came in. There is no resistance. The demonstrations in Saqba have been peaceful. Scores of people have been arrested," she said.
Wissam Tarif, executive director of the Insan human rights group, said at least 260 people had been detained in Saqba. He earlier told Reuters more than 800 people had been rounded up in Deraa since the army moved in.
In a sign that Assad was further widening the use of the military to crush demonstrations, tanks and armored vehicles deployed around the town of Rastan, and army units set up checkpoints in Sunni districts in Banias.
Armed troops also deployed in the Damascus suburb of Erbin and in the town of Tel, north of the capital, where security forces arrested at least 80 men, women and children, the human rights organization Sawasiah said.
A student activist said security forces dispersed a demonstration at the University of Aleppo on Thursday.
Before the army division led by Assad's brother Maher stormed Deraa, Assad had relied mainly on other security forces and secret police to confront the demonstrations.
"Assad's decision to use the army is pretty much the utmost escalation of force he can muster and a clear signal that he has no interest in any reconciliation," said an Arab government official monitoring the situation in Syria." - Reuters