Last Updated: Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:33 am (KSA) 07:33 am (GMT)

Syria's death toll reaches 30 as ships, tanks blast neighborhoods in port city

Syrian tanks and navy ships shelled the main Mediterranean port city of Latakia on Sunday, residents and rights groups said, killing 24 people as President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched an offensive by land and sea to crush protests. (Photo by REUTERS)
Syrian tanks and navy ships shelled the main Mediterranean port city of Latakia on Sunday, residents and rights groups said, killing 24 people as President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched an offensive by land and sea to crush protests. (Photo by REUTERS)

Up to 30 people have been killed on Sunday in Syria as Syrian forces backed by tanks and warships swept into the port city of Latakia, activists said, amid bloody crackdown on anti-regime protesters intensified.

The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria (NOHRS) put the death toll in Latakia at 26 and provided a list of their names, adding that two other people died in Homs, one in Hama and one in Idlib.

But state-run news agency SANA denied that the navy had attacked Latakia, quoting its correspondent in the province as saying security forces were “battling gunmen,” AFP reported.

The attacks are becoming increasingly brutal in the ongoing government offensive against protesters demanding embattled President Bashar Al Assad surrender power.

Syrian forces had blasted into the seaside city with navy ships, using heavy machine-guns against civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory said.

"I can see the silhouettes of two grey vessels. They are firing their guns and the impact is landing on Al Raml Al Filistini and Al Shaab neighborhoods," one witness told Reuters by phone from Latakia.

Residents say that troops and tanks have been besieging the two neighborhoods for months, with garbage going uncollected and electricity regularly being cut, Reuters reported.

"This is the most intense attack on Latakia since the uprising. Anyone who sticks his head out of the window risks being shot. They want to finish off the demonstrations for good," he said.

Meanwhile, SANA denied that naval vessels had opened fire on the city.

The agency said its correspondent "denied reports carried by some media that said Ramel (district) was shelled from the sea."

"Law enforcement members are pursuing armed men who are using machine guns, grenades and bombs in Ramel from rooftops and from behind barricades," SANA said.

Latakia was reportedly cut off from internet and landline connections, while train services to and from the province were suspended, the Syrian Observatory said.

Syrian authorities have blamed the carnage on armed gangs and Islamist militants.

Still, the assaults by Syrian security forces are being met with increasing international condemnation.

United Nations deputy political affairs chief Oscar Fernandez-Taranco on Sunday estimated that security forces have killed nearly 2,000 Syrian civilians since March - 188 since July 31 and 87 on August 8 alone, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, rights groups say that the violence has killed around 2,200 people, including some 400 members of the security forces, according to rights activists.

The UN Security Council is due to hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss human rights and the humanitarian emergency in Syria.

About 20,000 people have been rallying to protest against Mr. Assad, calling for his removal in different areas across the city every night, particularly after Ramadan evening prayers which have led to larger gatherings.

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