Syrian gunboats renew assault on coastal city
Published Sunday, August 14, 2011 8:41PM EDT
Gunshots from heavily-armed Syrian ships rained over parts of the coastal town Latakia on Sunday, killing at least 25 people as President Bashar Assad continued his crusade against anti-government protesters.
While the gunships pounded waterfront districts, pro-regime troops and security agents reportedly stormed the area's impoverished al-Ramel and Skanturi neighbourhoods.
"We are being targeted from the ground and the sea," said a resident of the al-Ramel district, which is also close to a Palestinian refugee camp.
"The shooting is intense, many homes have been destroyed and the sabiha (thugs) have broken into shops and businesses," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The intense operation in Latakia, a key port city once known as a summer tourist draw, is part of a brutal government crackdown on several Syrian cities meant to root out protesters demanding Assad's ouster.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the deadly attack on Sunday, which was confirmed by the activist network the Local Coordination Committees.
Among those reportedly killed on Sunday was a two-year-old girl who was riding in a car with her father. Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the child died when security forces opened fire on the car as it arrived at a checkpoint.
Security forces appear to be focusing their efforts on Latakia's al-Ramel neighbourhood, which has seen large anti-Assad protests since the Syrian uprising began in mid-March.
"They are trying to take control of the city as they did in other places," said Abdul-Rahman.
At least five people were killed in Latakia on Saturday as military tanks, agents and pro-regime gunmen surged through the port city, one day after thousands of demonstrators in cities across Syria chanted for Assad's execution.
Explosions and gunfire were also heard in the nearby neighbourhood of Slaibeh, reported the Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees activist group. Two people were reportedly killed.
Abdul-Rahman said security agents rushed into the town of Qusair and other villages near Lebanon's border, arresting scores of residents. One person was reportedly killed in Qusair.
Military personnel also moved through the nearby towns of Hawla, Taldaw and Sarmin, reportedly wounding 10 people. One person was also killed in a security raid in Daraya, a suburb of the capital Damascus, while another was killed in the city of Hama.
Anti-government sentiment reached new heights on Friday when crowds rushed into streets across Syria, defying bullets and rooftop snipers to shout for the president's dismissal and execution.
Security forces killed at least 14 protesters during the clash, according to human rights activists.
The numbers of dead and wounded, as well as other details, are difficult for journalists to independently verify since most foreign media have been banned from the country and local news reports face heavy restrictions.
Pressure on Assad
The regime's renewed attacks on Latakia come a day after Canada moved to broaden economic sanctions against Syria, extending international condemnation of the deadly crackdown.
On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced Canada will prevent additional members of Assad's government from travelling to Canada and has frozen assets of more entities linked to the regime.
"We're very committed to this and we'll continue to work with our allies and reach out to others to take more significant action," Baird said in a conference call from Mexico City.
The sanctions are an extension of measures Canada imposed in May.
On the same day, the United States renewed calls for a global trade embargo on oil and gas from Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned America's allies that they must "get on the right side of history" and cut links with a government that uses violence to repress protesters and will not reform.
Zeina Karam, an Associated Press reporter following the crackdown, said that even Arab nations are condemning the actions of Assad's regime.
"We're seeing very strong statements from the Saudi king and the Arab League," she told CTV News Channel on Sunday in a phone interview from Beirut.
However, Karam says that condemnation alone will not solve the Syrian unrest.
"These are just words so far and there's nothing much they can do in terms of stopping this crackdown," she said.
Karam added that Clinton's call for a global trade embargo on oil might be the most effective way to discourage the current violence in Syria.
With files from The Associated Press