x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dozen killed as Syrian troops storm Hama

The government is escalating its crackdown on protests calling for President Bashar Assad's ouster ahead of Ramadan, which starts tomorrow.

A TV grab taken from Al Arabiya channel on 31 July, 2011 shows flames rising next to a military vehicle, at an unspecified location in Syria.
A TV grab taken from Al Arabiya channel on 31 July, 2011 shows flames rising next to a military vehicle, at an unspecified location in Syria.

BEIRUT // The Syrian army raided cities across the country before dawn today, killing at least 30 people - most of them in the city of Hama where a barrage of shelling and gunfire left bodies scattered in the streets, activists and residents said.

The government is escalating its crackdown on protests calling for President Bashar Assad's ouster ahead of Ramadan, which starts tomorrow in Syria. Demonstrations are expected to swell during Ramadan as the protesters and government forces try to tip the balance in a remarkably resilient uprising that began in mid-March.

Having sealed off the main roads into Hama almost a month ago, army troops in tanks pushed into the city before daybreak today in a coordinated assault. Residents shouted "God is great!" and threw firebombs, stones and sticks at the tanks. Clouds of black smoke covered parts of the city.

"It's a massacre, they want to break Hama before the month of Ramadan," a witness who identified himself by his first name, Ahmed, told The Associated Press by telephone from Hama.

Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties and were seeking blood donations, he said.

During Ramadan, Muslims throng mosques for special night prayers after breaking their daily dawn-to-dusk fast. The gatherings could trigger intense protests throughout the predominantly Sunni country and activists say authorities are moving to ensure that does not happen.

Other raids were reported in southern Syria and in the suburbs of the capital Damascus. In the neighborhood of al-Joura in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, soldiers in tanks fired machine guns, killing at least seven people, activists said. The reports could not be independently verified because Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted coverage.