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Fresh gunfire heard as Syria intensifies crackdown

Machine fire and artillery blasts resumes in the Syrian city of Deir el-Zour, a day after at least 42 people were killed in an intensifying government crackdown on protesters

AP , Monday 8 Aug 2011
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Views: 1324

A besieged Syrian city came under fresh artillery fire early Monday as a deadly military assault left President Bashar Assad's regime increasingly isolated, with Arab nations forcefully joining the international chorus of condemnation for the first time.

The renewed violence in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour comes a day after at least 42 people were killed there in an intensifying government crackdown on protesters.

The Local Coordinating Committees, which help organize the protests and track the uprising, said machine fire and artillery blasts resumed early Monday in Deir el-Zour.

Syrian troops also stormed Maaret al-Numan in the northern province of Idlib at dawn, activists said.

"Forces entered the city from its eastern side and they are preventing the residents from entering or leaving the city," the LCC said in a statement.

More than 300 people have died in the past week, the bloodiest in the five-month uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule. Deir el-Zour, in particular, has come under withering attack. The city is in an oil-rich, but largely impoverished region of Syria known for its well-armed clans and tribes whose ties extend across eastern Syrian and into Iraq.

"Humanitarian conditions in the city are very bad because it has been under siege for nine days," an activist said in the city said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "There is lack of medicine, baby formula, food and gasoline. The city is totally paralyzed." The government's crackdown on mostly peaceful, unarmed protesters demanding political reforms and an end to the Assad family's 40-year rule has left more than 1,700 dead since March, according to activists and human rights groups. Assad's regime disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, which at times has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets.

The international community has sharply condemned the government's crackdown, imposing sanctions and demanding an immediate end to the attacks. But in a sign of growing outrage, Syria's Arab neighbors joined that chorus of criticism, voicing their concerns of a crackdown that intensified o the eve of the holy month of Ramadan _ a time of introspection and piety characterized by a dawn-to-dusk fast.

Muslims typically gather in mosques during the month for special nightly prayers after breaking the fast, and the Assad government have been trying to prevent such large gatherings from turning into more anti-government protests.

After sunset Sunday, thousands of people poured into the streets in areas around Syria, including the capital Damascus and its suburbs, the village of Dael in the south, the central city of Homs, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and northern city of Aleppo, according to the Local Coordination Committees. There were reports of shootings but no immediate word on casualties, according to the LCC.

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