DAMASCUS: More than 90 people were killed on Sunday as the Syrian military launched an attack on the flashpoint protest city of Hama on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a human rights activist said.
Ammar Qorabi, who heads the National Organisation for Human Rights, said that army attacks across Syria killed at least 121 people and wounded dozens more. Another activist put the overall toll at 123.
“The army and security forces launched an attack on Hama and opened fire on civilians, killing 95 people,” Qorabi said, adding he had a list of names of 62 of the dead.
He added that “19 people were killed in Deir Ezzor in the east, six more died in Harak in the south and one in Al-Bukamal,” also in the east.
According to Qorabi, “snipers took up positions on rooftops” in Deir Ezzor where “most of those shot were hit in the head and the neck.”
Another rights group reported that 47 people were killed in and around Hama, including two shot dead by security forces in the village of Suran outside the city, bringing the day's overall death toll to 123.
Dozens were also wounded when security forces shot at “residents who took to the streets to protest when they heard the news about Hama,” said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He quoted a Hama hospital source as saying: “The number of those wounded is huge and hospitals cannot cope, particularly because we lack the adequate equipment.”
On the international front, British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Assad to call off the Hama assault.
“I am appalled by the reports that the Syrian security forces have stormed Hama with tanks and other heavy weapons this morning, killing dozens of people,” Hague said.
“President Bashar is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis in his country. He should stop this assault on his own people now.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, threatened new sanctions against the Syrian leadership.
Berlin “calls on President Assad to immediately end violence against peaceful demonstrators,” he said. “If President Assad fails to change course, we and our partners in the EU will impose new sanctions.”
Abdel Rahman also reported six dead and 50 wounded in Deir Ezzor and three killed and dozens wounded at Harak in the Deraa region near the border with Jordan.
One resident reached by phone told AFP the army entered Hama at around 6:00 am (0300 GMT) in an apparent operation to wrest back control after security forces withdrew from the city almost two months ago.
Another said: “Five tanks are now deployed outside the governor's palace,”and spoke of intermittent gunfire.
The official SANA news agency reported two members of the security forces killed by “armed groups” in Hama while state television said a colonel and two soldiers were “martyred” by gunmen in Deir Ezzor.
SANA said the gunmen torched police stations and attacked private and public property in Hama, adding that soldiers were tearing down barricades and checkpoints set up by the armed men at the entrance of the city.
The Syrian Observatory said the army also launched an operation against Muadhamiya in the Damascus region.
“Security forces launched an offensive at 0200 GMT on Muadhamiya from the north, with tanks blocking the southern, eastern and western entrances to the town,” Abdel Rahman said.
The Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights reported more than 300 people detained in Muadhamiya, where electricity supplies and communications had been cut.
Also arrested was Bagara tribal chief and opposition figure Nawwaf Ragheb al-Bashir, who was seized on Saturday in Deir Ezzor, Syria's main oil- and gas-producing region, according to the Syrian League.
The Syrian Observatory reported demonstrations in the central city of Homs and along the Aleppo-Damascus highway, which residents cut off in several points, to protest against the Hama crackdown.
Hama and the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor have been rallying points for pro-democracy protests since mid-March. In 1982, an estimated 20,000 people were killed in Hama when the army put down an Islamist revolt against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad's late father, Hafez.
The president replaced the governor of Hama after a record 500,000 protesters rallied in the opposition bastion on July 1 calling for the fall of the regime.
Since security forces gunned down 48 protesters in the city on June 3, Hama had escaped the clutches of the regime, activists say. The next day, more than 100,000 mourners were reported to have massed at their funerals.
Since anti-regime protests broke out, the crackdown on dissent has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 civilians and more than 360 members of the security forces, according to a Syrian Observatory toll. More than 12,000 people are also reported to have been arrested.