Syrian security forces stormed the city of Homs and cut off telecommunications as heavy shooting was heard while troops raided homes, Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday.
Syrian activists told Al Arabiya that more deaths have been reported as the security forces swept through Homs and fired at the Khaled bin Walid Mosque.
According to AFP, seven people have been shot dead by the fire of security forces in Homs.
“Most land and cell phone lines and the Internet have been cut off. Tanks moved in at dawn and began firing heavy machineguns randomly at houses in Bab Tadmur, Warsha district and Bab Dreib,” Syrian activists told Reuters.
“Troops also deployed in Bab Sbaa, two explosions were heard in al-Khader neighborhood and they sealed off the city center,” said a statement by Homs City Neighborhoods Union sent to Reuters.
The operation comes after Syria asked Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi to postpone a visit to the Arab country for talks on the violent crackdown on protests that broke out mid-March.
President Bashar al-Assad faces the biggest challenge to his rule since inheriting power from his father 11 years ago, with increased international condemnation of the violence. The European Union on September 3 added four people and three companies to an asset freeze and travel ban on Syria, where the unrest began in mid- March. A day earlier, the EU banned imports of Syrian oil.
More than 2,450 civilians and 700 members of the security forces have been killed during the crackdown, while 15,000 people have been injured and at least 20,000 are in prison, according to Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights. The UN puts the death toll at more than 2,200.
Security forces have failed to halt the protests, which were inspired by unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that unseated Tunisian President Zine Elabidine Ben Ali in January and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the following month. Muammar Qaddafi is in hiding after an uprising ended his control over most of Libya.
Tanks and troops, largely from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, moved into Homs four months ago and occupied the main square in the city to try to end protests demanding the removal of President Assad.
The Alawite sect dominates Syria’s security forces and core army units that have besieged numerous towns and cities across the country to crush the six month uprising.
Homs, 165 km (100 miles north of Damascus) is mostly Sunni Muslim, like the rest of Syria. The hundreds of casualties reported in the city since the army deployment has been caused by assaults on Sunni areas. Activists have also reported the death of several Alawite residents in apparent revenge killings.
Residents said an Alawite militia loyal to Assad, known as shabbiha, has played a leading role in the raids and are responsible for some of the killings, raising tension between the two sects.
Activists and residents have reported an increasing number of defections among the mostly Sunni rank and file military in Homs and its surrounding countryside.
Residents of Rastan, a town near Homs, published footage purportedly showing defecting soldiers on a balcony greeting a crowd of several thousand people at a pro-democracy rally in the town last week.
Syrian authorities, which have not allowed independent media in the country since the uprising began in March, say there have been no defections in the military.
They say the troops were deployed in Syrian cities in response to appeals by inhabitants frightened by “armed terrorist gangs.”