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Syrians describe bloody assault in Hama

Residents who have escaped describe sustained bombardment and say bodies lie in the streets as tanks and snipers hold positions. Food is running short as troops block supplies from entering the city.

August 05, 2011|By Alexandra Sandels and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
  • This file image posted on the Internet by Shaam News Network, showing what they purport to be a military tank on the streets of the city of Hama, Syria.
This file image posted on the Internet by Shaam News Network, showing what… (Shaam News Network / AP Photo )

Reporting from Beirut — Residents fleeing the central Syrian city of Hama on Thursday said bodies lay in the streets and a humanitarian crisis was looming as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad pressed forward with an assault on the opposition stronghold.

A summary of fragmentary accounts compiled by the Local Coordinating Committee of Syria, an opposition activist network, said at least 30 people were killed in the city Wednesday by sustained bombardment and shooting. It said many of the dead were buried in makeshift graves in parks.

More than 50 people were being treated at one hospital, and the city of 700,000 faced a food shortage. Reuters quoted a witness who escaped Hama as saying that at least 40 had been killed since Wednesday and five more, including two children, shot dead while trying to flee the city.

"There are many victims who cannot be saved, and there are a lot of bodies on the roads," one Hama resident who managed to escape the city to Damascus, the capital, Thursday morning told The Times. "Electricity, water, and communications are cut and the security forces are surrounding the city from all sides."

Assad's government, dominated by his minority Alawites, a small Shiite Muslim sect, is struggling to fend off a popular uprising against its autocratic rule led by the country's overwhelming Sunni Muslim majority. The apparent intensification of the crackdown on Hama comes despite a condemnation issued Wednesday by the United Nations Security Council.

Syrian authorities appeared to shrug off the statement. But in a possible effort to limit its effect, Assad issued a decree authorizing a multi-political party system. The official SANA news agency said the decree was issued with the goal of "activating the political life and citizens' participation." The move has been dismissed by opposition activists as a ruse.

Syrian officials claim that the security forces are hunting down armed groups and terrorists in Hama, assertions widely dismissed by residents.

"The security and the army are the ones burning the government buildings and accuse the people of it and say there are armed gangs," said the resident of Hama who reached Damascus.

Syrian authorities have banned almost all foreign and independent journalists, making it difficult to verify witness accounts as well as activist and government claims.

The Local Coordination Committee reported that gunmen had been positioned above hospitals and that military vehicles have been preventing the entry of supplies into the city.

The witness who fled to Damascus, who asked to remain anonymous out of security concerns, said army tanks had been deployed in Hama's main square and in other restive districts that have come under heavy shelling over the past days. Families remained in their homes as tanks pounded residential areas.

"The people wake up in the morning to the sounds of artillery fire aimed at buildings," he told The Times. "A lot of people are trapped inside their houses and can't get out. Dead bodies are everywhere. There is a humanitarian crisis. The city has become a disaster."

Sandels is a special correspondent. A special correspondent in Damascus contributed to this report.

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