Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Syrian forces fire on Hama crowds

Syrian boxer Nasser al-Shami, left, in the ring; the former Olympic champion has been shot in unrest in Hama(AP)

Syrian security forces have opened fire in the central city of Hama injuring an Olympic boxing champion and at least 20 others as the government drive continued to crush pro-democracy uprising activists.

Nasser al-Shami, who won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, was in stable condition after being hit by shotgun pellets, said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The shooting happened as Syrian troops and tanks sealed off Hama and blocked the roads leading in, an apparent attempt to end growing dissent there and retake the city one month after security forces withdrew. About 300,000 protesters held huge protests against the regime in Hama last week, a sign the city was spiralling out of government control.

"There is some kind of a siege on the city. They are closing all roads leading to Hama," said Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso.

Hama, which has a history of militancy against the regime of president Bashar Assad, was targeted in a major government crackdown nearly three decades ago. In 1982, Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, ordered his troops to crush a rebellion by Sunni fundamentalists, killing between 10,000 and 25,000 people.

Also today activists said Syrian security forces opened fire on people fleeing to neighbouring Turkey, wounding a mother and her young son.

Thousands of Syrians have already taken shelter in refugee camps in Turkey, a source of deep embarrassment to Damascus.

To the south, in the Damascus suburb of Dumair, armoured personnel carriers rolled in after all telecommunications were cut, an activist in the area said.

The uprising against Assad has proved remarkably resilient, lasting nearly four months despite a deadly government crackdown that has brought international condemnation and sanctions. Assad is facing the most serious challenge to his family's four decades of rule in Syria.

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