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Hama gunmen 'killing in streets'

Gunmen in plain clothes are randomly shooting people in the streets of the besieged Syrian city of Hama, a resident has said.

He said families are burying their loved ones in gardens at home for fear of being killed themselves if they venture out to cemeteries.

Military forces on Sunday launched an offensive against anti-government dissent in Hama and at least 100 people have been killed since, according to human rights groups.

Phones, internet and electricity have been cut or disrupted for days. The resident said people are being forced to ration food and share bread to get by during the holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

"People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street," said the resident, who spoke by phone. "I saw with my own eyes one young boy on a motorcycle who was carrying vegetables being run over by a tank."

The resident said around 250 people have been killed since Sunday. Hozan Ibrahim, of the Local Co-ordination Committees which tracks the crackdown on protesters, said up to 30 people may have been killed in Hama on Wednesday only based on reports from fleeing residents. But neither of those numbers could be immediately verified.

Activists have expressed concern about worsening humanitarian conditions in Hama. Thousands are reported to have fled in the past two days.

The siege of Hama is part of a new government offensive to put down the country's uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule. Now in its fifth month, the protests have been gaining momentum in defiance of the military crackdown.

In other parts of Syria, security forces killed at least seven protesters overnight when they went out to demonstrate after special night time prayers for Ramadan, activists said.

On Thursday, Assad issued two legislative decrees that will allow the formation of political parties alongside the Baath Party and enable newly formed parties to run for parliament and local councils. Both draft bills were endorsed by Cabinet last month, and were key demands of the opposition movement, but opposition figures now dismiss the moves as manoeuvring tactics and insist they want regime change.

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