|Homs has been at the centre of protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad in recent weeks [Reuters]
The official websites of seven major Syrian cities and several government departments have been hacked, as the country's government continues an extensive crackdown on anti-government protesters in the province of Homs and elsewhere.
A London-based rights group reported the deaths of four people in the crackdown on Sunday.
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The websites for the cities of Homs, Aleppo, Latakia, Damascus, Tartous, Deir Ezzor and Palmyra were hacked by members of the Anonymous Operation Syria group on Sunday, with the home pages replaced by an interactive map of Syria showing data on those killed in the government's crackdown.
The map showed the names, ages and dates of death of those killed since the uprising began in March, putting the death toll at 2,316.
The websites have since been reset by their administrators, with each now only displaying a generic page.
Several other websites, including those of the ministry of transportation and the department of antiquities and museums, were also hacked. The hacked versions of the webpages included a link to a site advising activists within Syria on how to maintain anonymity on the internet in order to evade government tracking.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government's crackdown on the province of Homs continued on Sunday, with a major deployment of troops there. Security forces were also deployed to the Douma suburb of Damascus, activists said.
|The hacked sites linked to pages advising Syrian activists on how to stay anonymous while using the internet
Syrian tanks hit a strategic highway in the al-Rastan area in the early hours of Monday morning, apparently attempting to dislodge army defectors who had taken refuge there, activists and residents said.
Three inhabitants of the area were injured when troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, used heavy machine guns mounted on tanks to fire upon the town, after having surrounded it earlier in the night.
Activists reported hearing heavy explosions.
The army defectors have been supporting the pro-democracy protesters in al-Rastan, which is located about 20km north of the city of Homs, along the main highway leading to Turkey.
Activists also said that military reinforcements had been sent to Quseir, a town on the border with Lebanon.
The Syrian army had been strengthening its presence in Quseir on Saturday after civilians had attempted to flee violence in the country.
The initial deployments came a day after activists reported that security forces had killed 12 civilians in the town, and one more in Hama.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based organisation, said that 12 people had been killed in Quseir during raids by government security forces earlier.
The observatory said that security forces had opened fire on protesters in neighbourhoods of Homs, but did not provide any further details or information on possible casualties.
On Sunday, the observatory reported the deaths of four more people, including that of Hassan Eid, the head of the surgery department at the state-run hospital in Homs. Syrian state television said that Eid had been killed by "armed terrorist gangs".
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The observatory also reported that 10 students had been arrrested by security forces in Dael, a city in Deraa province, on Sunday.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has put the number of people killed in the crackdown at more than 2,700 since March 15.
The Syrian authorities say 700 police and army personnel have been killed by "terrorists" and "mutineers".
Also on Sunday, additional security forces were deployed to the Damascus suburb of Douma, which has seen several protests against Assad's rule, activists said.
Syria has been gripped by almost daily anti-government protests since March 15. While the demonstrations initially called for democratic reform, the protesters' stance has hardened in the face of a crackdown.
Damascus says that the protesters are not indicative of popular sentiment, and has blamed "armed gangs" and "terrorists" for the violence.
Political pressure on Syria to stop its crackdown on protest was given new life on Saturday as new European Union sanctions went into effect, and Turkey said that it had intercepted an sea-bound arms shipment bound for Syria.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies