AMMAN, Jul (Reuters) - Syrian tanks have deployed at the entrances to the city of Hama, activists and residents said on Sunday, two days after it saw the largest protest against President Bashar al-Assad since an uprising began three months ago.
“Tens of people are being arrested in neighborhoods on the edges of Hama. The authorities seem to have opted for a military solution to subdue the city,” Rami Abdel-Rahman, president of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters.
Hama, 210 km (131 miles) north of Damascus, was the scene of the bloodiest episode in Syria’s modern history, when troops. mostly from Syria’s Alawite minority sect, killed up to 30,000 people in an assault in 1982 to put down an Islamist-led uprising against the iron rule of Assad’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad.
A resident of Hama said communication networks had been cut off in the city, a tactic that has been used by the military ahead of assaults on cities and towns elsewhere, and security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad were seen in several neighborhoods.
“They fired their rifles randomly this morning in the Mashaa district. Arrests concentrated in the areas around the football stadium and in Sabounia district,” the resident, a shop owner who gave his name as Kamel, told Reuters by phone from an area outside the city, where telephones had not been cut off.
Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, has ruled the majority Sunni country since 2000. He sacked the governor of Hama province, Ahmad Khaled Abdulaziz, on Saturday.
The security presence had lessened in Hama since forces killed at least 60 protesters in the city a month ago, in one of the bloodiest days of the uprising against Assad. Residents said security forces and snipers had fired on crowds of demonstrators.
The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Assad and his top officials in response to the brutal crackdown, in which at least 1,300 civilians have been killed according to rights groups.
Neighboring Turkey has warned Assad against repeating “another Hama,” in reference to the 1982 massacre.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; editing by Elizabeth Fullerton