The Syrian military stormed the central city of Hama before dawn today, killing up to 13 people as tank shells slammed into the streets, activists and witnesses said.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had compiled the names of 13 dead from hospitals and residents in Hama, but the figure could not be independently confirmed.
The Syria-based Local Co-ordination Committees said it had the names of four victims, but that there were more bodies that had yet to be identified.
“Troops entered Hama at dawn today,” a resident told The Associated Press by telephone. “We woke up to this news, they are firing from their machine guns randomly and there are many casualties.”
An estimated 1,600 civilians have died in the crackdown on the largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime since the uprising began more than four months ago. Most of the dead were killed in shootings by security forces on anti-government rallies.
Hama became one of the hottest centres of the demonstrations. In early June, security forces shot dead 65 people there, and since then it has fallen out of government control, with protesters holding the streets and government forces ringing the city and conducting overnight raids.
The city has a history of dissent against the Assad dynasty. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez, crushed a Sunni uprising there in 1982, shelling the city and killing tens of thousands.