The flashpoint Syrian city of Hama endured a sixth day under military siege yesterday, with a resident saying people were being “slaughtered like sheep” in the streets and families were burying their dead in home gardens or roadsides rather than risk a trip to a cemetery.
Speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, he said the city was also bombed at sunset on Thursday as people were breaking their dawn-to-dusk fast, which Muslims observe during the holy month of Ramadan.
There was no official count of the dead. One resident said about 250 people have been killed since Sunday, while a rights group that tracks death tallies reported up to 30 people were killed in Hama on Wednesday alone. The tolls could not be verified because of the difficulty reaching residents and hospital officials in the besieged city, where journalists are barred as they are throughout Syria.
One resident said he had seen gunmen in plainclothes randomly shooting people in the streets.
“People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street,” said the man, who spoke to The Associated Press (AP) by phone on Thursday on condition of anonymity. “I saw with my own eyes one young boy on a motorcycle who was carrying vegetables being run over by a tank.”
The assault on Hama, a center of the five-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s iron rule, is among the most ferocious in the government’s effort to crush the rebellion — and a sign of the Syrian leader’s defiance of growing international condemnation.
The offensive began Sunday when Syrian security forces backed by tanks and snipers rolled into Hama in a fierce campaign that left corpses in the streets and sent residents fleeing for their lives. On Wednesday, tanks stormed Hama, taking over a main city square.
Activists, residents and human rights groups say the toll since Sunday ranges from at least 100 to as high as 250. The Local Coordination Committees, which tracks the crackdown, said up to 30 people were killed on Wednesday alone, and 50 were wounded, according to fleeing residents.
Defiant, Internet-based activists yesterday called for a rally on the first Friday of Ramadan.
“God is with us, are you?” said activists on Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind the demonstrations calling for greater freedoms since mid-March, urging people to take to the streets in massive numbers yet again after the main weekly Muslim prayers.
Similar calls for demonstrations in the past month have seen hundreds of thousands of people pour onto streets of major protest centers after Friday prayers.
The latest crackdown also prompted harsh words from Washington and Moscow, with Russia hinting at a possible change of heart after stonewalling firm UN action against Syria, its ally since Soviet times.
The White House said the deadly crackdown has put Syria and the Middle East on a “very dangerous path,” as Washington extended a raft of recent sanctions to include a businessman close to Assad and his family.
US President Barack Obama’s administration appeared to be moving toward a first direct call for Assad to go, a step it has so far resisted, following an escalation of violence in the revolt hub of Hama.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US would urge the Europeans, Arabs and others to do more to press Syria to stop its deadly crackdown.