Syrian forces killed more than 50 people yesterday as they launched full-scale military assaults on two towns that had seen major protests in opposition to the Assad family's four-decade rule.
The relentless crackdown was swiftly followed by a message of condemnation from the Arab League, its first significant criticism of the Syrian regime's ruthless suppression of nearly five months of anti-government protests.
The military offensives came a week after President Bashar al-Assad sent his forces into Hama to retake the city that has emerged as a symbol of defiance in Syria's uprising.
Scores were killed in the day-long operation, provoking global outrage.
At dawn, some 200 tanks rolled into the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, which has been under siege for days.
Tanks shelled buildings, while snipers positioned on rooftops picked off "anything that moves," according to the Local Co-ordination Committee, which has organised many of the protests.
More than 40 people were killed, activists claimed.
"Human conditions in the city are very bad since it has been under siege for nine days," an activist in Deir al-Zour told the Associated Press.
"There is lack of medicine, baby formula, food stuff and gasoline. The city is totally paralysed."
Syrian forces yesterday also attacked Houleh, a town in central Syria that had also seen large protests, killing at least 10.
The government has used the holy month of Ramadan to subdue towns that have dared to defy Mr Assad's rule, fearful that dissenters could use daily prayers to ramp up protests calling for political reform.
Residents of Deir al-Zour had expected the regime to retaliate, and had met to discuss putting up armed resistance.
Their fears of an attack were heightened after the crackdown in Hama last Sunday that left 100 dead by some estimates.