Syrian security forces loyal to the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad launched a major military assault on opposition strongholds Sunday, using tanks and gunfire in authorities' latest attempt to crush a pro-democracy movement that appears to be gathering momentum ahead of the emotionally and religiously charged holy month of Ramadan.
According to sketchy accounts by activists and residents reached by telephone, Syrian security forces violently attacked several of the country's opposition hotspots, including the southern city of Dara and the far eastern city of Dair Alzour, with the most intense attacks centered on Hama, the country's fourth largest city as well as the site of a 1982 massacre by Assad's father.
Syrian security forces also moved to violently crush solidarity protests that broke out all over the country, especially in neighborhoods in Homs, the country's third largest city, and Idleb, in the country's northwest as well as the restive suburbs of Damascus.
At least 70 people were reportedly killed around the country, about 50 of them in Hama, according to activists who warned that the casualty figures were sure to rise.
There were unconfirmed reports of army defections, relatively rare instances where soldiers faltered in their apparently unwavering loyalty to Assad. Unverified video footage showed small groups of soldiers on tanks embraced by activists in Hama. (more)