A Syrian flag is draped on a statue of Syria's late President Hafez… (Joseph Eid / AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Beirut — Security forces firing into crowds of protesters killed a 13-year-old boy and six other people across Syria on Tuesday, activists said, closing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, one of the bloodiest periods of President Bashar Assad's months-long military crackdown on a popular uprising.
The final days of the holiday saw a surge in protests and alleged killings by Assad's forces, with 23 people slain from Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon, according to the Local Coordinating Committees opposition coalition. Many of those killed Tuesday were shot as they rallied against Assad's government after morning prayers marking Eid al-Fitr, which in normal times is a period of celebration after the Ramadan month of fasting.
In Syria, Ramadan began with a major tank assault on the opposition stronghold of Hama that activists said killed 200 people. Leaders of Syria's nonviolent movements tried but failed to make a push into the center of Damascus, the capital, in the last days of the holiday, but succeeded in mounting daily small protests countrywide through the month, despite lethal force employed by Assad's troops.
One group, the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, told the Reuters news agency that security forces had killed 551 people during Ramadan. The United Nations says more than 2,200 people have died since protests against Assad's regime began in March.
In Tuesday's violent end to the holiday, residents reached by telephone described the cities of Homs and Dair Alzour as under siege, with explosions, artillery fire and armored vehicles rolling through the streets, as Syria's military sought to quell protests nationwide.
"Tanks have taken over our city," said Omar, a 23-year-old in the Heet neighborhood of Homs. "In the months we have been protesting, I have never seen such defiance on the part of the people, and such brutality on the part of the regime." He spoke on condition that he not be identified further, for fear of retaliation by government forces.
In Dair Alzour, near the Iraqi border, security forces had worked since morning to block protesters from gathering, a man named Khaled said by telephone. "We can't say tanks have rolled in or out anymore, because they are always lurking," the man said.
According to the Local Coordinating Committees, Tuesday's deaths occurred in the southern city of Dara and in the southwestern town of Houran. A video on the Internet shows men running frantically through Houran with the limp body of a boy before stopping to look at the jagged hole gouged by a bullet in the boy's head and apparently realizing that he was dead.
Other videos show protests in the northern province of Idlib and the Damascus suburbs of Amouda, Qaboun and the Midan.
Knickmeyer and Hajjar are special correspondents.