Opposition: Syrian forces shell port city
(CNN) — Syrian security forces backed by gunships killed at least 25 people in a crackdown on anti-government protesters in the flashpoint port city of Latakia that entered its third day, opposition groups told CNN Monday.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government refuted the claims, saying two soldiers were killed and 41 were wounded during the pursuit of armed men using machine guns to attack residents and vandalize property, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported.
The crackdown in Latakia is the latest in a series of military actions, coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, that are targeting protesters calling for free elections and the ouster of al-Assad.
Tens of people were injured when naval forces shelled the city Sunday and security forces opened fire in residential neighborhoods, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists operating from inside Syria, said that at least 25 people were killed, including three children.
The opposition groups attributed the accounts to eyewitness reports from residents and medical professionals, whom they did not identify by name because of security concerns.
A report published Monday by SANA denied naval forces were shelling the city.
SANA, citing the Latakia health director, reported two soldiers and four gunmen were killed in clashes with security forces.
A man who identified himself as Ayman Kasser, a soldier, told Syrian state TV that he was shot in the leg after his unit was attacked by gunmen. He said one of his fellow soldiers was killed and four others were injured.
“The terrorists were using arms and dynamite,” he said.
CNN cannot independently verify opposition or government claims because Syria has restricted international journalists from reporting inside the country.
Latakia has been a flashpoint in the Syrian uprising that began in March with mass protests following the arrest of teens for scrawling anti-government graffiti.
Protesters have demanded free elections and an end to the reign of al-Assad, whose Alawite-minority led government rules Syria.
In March, at least a dozen people were killed when security forces clashed with protesters. Among the dead were civilians and members of the security forces, according to a report by government at the time.
The fighting in Latakia comes as international pressure mounts against al-Assad to end the brutal crackdown, which he has said is the result of armed gangs attacking residents as well as security forces.
The United States has stopped short of explicit calls for al-Assad to step down, but Washington has said Syria would be better off without him. The United States slapped sanctions on Syria’s largest mobile phone company and a bank, while calling for an oil and gas embargo.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait recalled their ambassadors from Syria and called on al-Assad to end the brutal crackdowns.
CNN’s Amir Ahmed, Arwa Damon, Nada Husseini and Yesim Comert contributed to this report.
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