Syria sharply escalated its already deadly campaign to crush a five-week uprising early Monday, sending troops backed by tanks, snipers and knife-wielding security forces into the southern city where the rebellion began, according to witnesses and activists…

Monday appeared to be the first time the authorities have sent tanks into population centers since the protests began.

The offensive into Daraa, where the month-long uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted last month, was the most intense in a series of actions to put down dissent and appeared part of new strategy for pre-emptive strikes against the opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime rather than reacting to marches and protests.

Security forces and gunmen also stormed the large Damascus suburb of Douma early, shooting at unarmed civilians and arresting residents, rights campaigners said.