Syrian gunboats killed at least 25 people yesterday in an assault on the Mediterranean city of Latakia, activists said, while ground troops backed by tanks and security agents stormed several of the city's neighborhoods.
"We are being targeted from the ground and the sea," a resident of the Al Ramel district told the Associated Press. "The shooting is intense, many homes have been destroyed and the shabiha (thugs) have broken into shops and businesses."
The operation in Latakia was part of the ongoing government crackdown on several Syrian cities meant to root out protesters demanding the removal of President Bashar Al Assad.
Security forces also surged into the Damascus suburbs of Saqba and Hamriya, cutting off communications, firing shots and making arrests.
Syria's human-rights groups, in a joint statement, yesterday urged the authorities to release the head of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, Abdel Karim Rihawi, who was arrested on Thursday in Damascus.
His detention "represents a violation of the international commitments undertaken by Syria," they said.
"Security forces are continuing mass arrests, in violation of the law, human rights and democratic freedoms, denying the rights of opposition figures and peaceful demonstrators," the groups said.
On Saturday, at least 20 tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled into Latakia's Al Ramel district amid intense gunfire that sent many residents fleeing the area. Activists said at least two people were killed.
Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to get independent confirmation of the events on the ground.
The protests calling for the downfall of Mr Al Assad's regime have grown dramatically over the past five months.
The UN Security Council is due to hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss human rights and the humanitarian emergency in Syria.
* With reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse