At least 45 dead in Hama as Syrian tanks fire into crowds
Hama is historically significant because it was there that Bashar Assad's father massacred up to 20,000 people in the last uprising to rock the regime.
Now, we can say with confidence: Like Father, like Son. Reuters:
Syrian tanks firing shells and machineguns stormed the city of Hama Sunday, killing at least 45 civilians in a move to crush demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, residents and activists said Assad's forces began their assault on the city, scene of a 1982 massacre, at dawn after besieging it for nearly a month. The official state news agency said scores of were on rooftops and "shooting intensively to terrorize citizens."
But residents said tanks and snipers were shooting at unarmed residential districts, where inhabitants had set up makeshift road blocks to try and stop their advance, and that an irregular Alawite militia loyal to Assad, known as 'shabbiha' accompanied the invading forces in buses.
The shabbiha play the dual role of murdering civilians at random and keeping Assad's soldiers in line by shooting any that fail to follow orders to fire into crowds.
Citing hospital officials, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll in Hama was likely to rise, with dozens badly wounded in the attack.
A doctor, who did not want to be further identified for fear of arrest, told Reuters that most bodies were taken to the city's Badr, al-Horani and Hikmeh hospitals.
Scores of people were wounded and blood for transfusions was in short supply, he said by telephone from the city, which has a population of around 700,000.
"Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machineguns randomly and overrunning makeshift road blocks erected by the inhabitants," the doctor said, the sound of machinegun fire crackling in the background.
Eyewitnesses report bodies lying all over the place which means the death toll is certain to rise.
This is a massive escalation by Assad who is seeking to tamp down demonstrations in advance of Ramadan, where it is probable that every day after prayers will see a massive outpouring into the streets.
One activist was quoted as saying that all Assad accomplished in Hama was pouring "oil on a burning fire." That conflagration might very well consume the dictator and his regime in the next month.