Military assault continues in Latakia

Security forces open fire, residents say, while activist group puts death toll in the northern port city at 35.

Syrian tanks again opened fire on besieged districts in the northern port city of Latakia, residents said, in the fourth day of a military assault aimed at crushing protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

Troops were removing bodies from the main square in the city on Tuesday, and some areas were on lockdown, sources told Al Jazeera.

A resident of the al-Ramel al-Janoubi neighbourhood, who called himself ‘Ismail’, told Al Jazeera that random shelling from gunboats and tanks continued in Latakia. He said five people had already been killed, and snipers were stationed around the city, shooting at anyone who ventured into the streets.

“What’s happeninig [in Latakia] is really severe. Shooting is still there and the buildings are occupied by others. The moment they see anything moving they will shoot it,” Ismail said.

“Yesterday we had a lot of problems in this area, a daughter was killed and her father was killed… No one is safe in this area.”

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify reports from Syria because of restrictions on reporting in the country.

‘Thousands’ arrested

Other activists have told Al Jazeera that “a large group of security forces dressed as civilians were chanting ‘We will sacrifice our blood and our souls for you Bashar al-Assad’,” our correspondent Nisreen el-Shamayleh said, reporting from the Jordanian side of the Syria-Jordan border.

She added that “thousands” who were arrested in Latakia on Monday were still being held at the Sports City Stadium there, according to witnesses.

“They are still being held captive, have been stripped of their IDs, have not been let out, they have had to stay overnight at the stadium, and have not been given food or water.”

The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, a grassroots activists’ group, said at least six people were killed in Latakia on Monday, bringing the civilian death toll there to 35, including a two-year-old girl, Reuters reported.

A resident told the Reuters news agency that heavy machine gun fire, explosions and intermittent tank fire were heard in the neighbourhoods of al-Ramel, the site of a Palestinian refugee camp, and al-Shaab on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation spoke out about the violence used against Palestinian refugees.

“The shelling is taking place using gunships and tanks on houses built from tin, on people who have no place to run to or even a shelter to hide in,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PLO secretary general, told Reuters. “This is a crime against humanity.”

Escalating crackdown

The crackdown has escalated since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when nightly prayers became the occasion for more protests against Assad and 41 years of Baathist rule.

“We hope for international intervention, and we need a military intervention, because we need to stop the mass killing. We need to stop the acts and we need to sort it out,” Ismail told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports from the Jordanian side of the Syria-Jordan border.

Residents told Al Jazeera on Monday that the army used heavy machine guns and tanks, and forced thousands of residents – including many Palestinian refugees – to flee their homes. Many had been rounded up in the sports stadium as they attempted to escape the city.

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said 5,000 to 10,000 residents of a Palestinian refugee camp in the al-Ramel area of the city had been fleeing after the camp came under fire.

El-Shamayleh said residents there called the assault the “most atrocious attack” since protests against Assad’s government began five months ago.

“People are trying to flee but they cannot leave Latakia because it is besieged. The best they can do is to move from one area to another within the city,” a witness told Reuters.

Diplomatic pressure

Meanwhile, in the central city of Homs, a witness told Al Jazeera that 12 people were killed after security forces fired on people after Ramadan prayers on Monday night.

Activists also reported random arrests in the capital, Damascus.

Syria faces mounting diplomatic pressure to end its crackdown on protests, with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, on Monday threatening Damascus with unspecified “steps” if it failed to do so.

Davutoglu said the bloodshed must end “immediately and without conditions or excuses”.

“If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken,” he said, without saying what that action could include.

Jordan also urged Syria to stop violence and start implementing reforms.

“Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit today telephoned his Syrian counterpart Adel Safar and told him that violence must stop immediately,” the state-run Petra news agency reported.

“Bakhit said Syria should listen to reason and start implementing reforms.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies