Syrian opposition: Military cracks down on port city
(CNN) — Syrian security forces backed by gunships Sunday killed at least 25 people in a crackdown on anti-government protesters in the flashpoint city Latakia, and violence has continued into Monday, opposition groups told CNN.
Government-run media has denied the claim.
Violence countrywide took at least 42 lives Sunday, said one anti-government activist group, which collects lists of victims’ names.
The Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union, a network of activists inside Syria working with other activists outside the country, believes that more than 50 people died in Latakia’s violence, but the group has so far only been able to collect 27 victim names.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists operating from inside Syria, said that at least 25 people were killed in Latakia, including three children.
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President Bashar al-Assad’s government refuted the claims of a Sunday assault on Latakia, blaming the violence on troublemakers. Two soldiers and four gunmen died in clashes, which wounded 41 more, Syria’s SANA news agency reported, when security forces in the city pursued men armed with machine guns, who were attacking residents and vandalizing property.
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.
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.
One person died and five sustained wounds from gunfire in Latakia Monday, when government forces allowed residents to flee to two neighborhoods, SOHR said. The six were shot while approaching a security checkpoint. Snipers have taken up roof-top positions in at least one Latakia neighborhood, the activists said.
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.
The Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union also reported deaths in the cities of Howlah and Hama.
An eyewitness in Hama confirmed to CNN Monday that sporadic gunfire filled the air there Sunday, as security forces continued arresting opposition members. “I am afraid for their lives,” the witness said, who wishes not to be named for fear of jeopardizing his own safety. “If they have charges against them of being eyewitnesses and helping the media they might be executed.”
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.
2530 people have died since the uprising began in March, according to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria. 391 of those who died belonged to Syria’s security forces.
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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