Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Tanks approach central Syrian city

Tanks are rolling towards the Syrian city of Hama, where 65 people have died during protests

Syrian tanks have rolled toward the tense central city of Hama which is still mourning the deaths of dozens of protesters.

The tanks reached the outskirts hours after a funeral procession through streets lined with shuttered shops and uniformed security forces, witnesses said.

The government lifted its stranglehold on the internet, which has been key to the 11-week uprising, but the crackdown did not relent.

Troops killed at least six protesters in a northern town, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees, which helps organise and document the protests calling for an end to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

More than 70 protesters were killed across Syria on Friday, and at least 65 of those were in Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The tanks at the entrance to Hama caused new alarm. The city rose up against Assad's father in 1982, only to be crushed by a three-week bombing campaign that killed thousands. Memories of those days are still raw.

"Dozens of tanks are reaching the southern outskirts of the city," said an activist who lives in a nearby town. "They will probably lay a siege then storm Hama."

The Local Co-ordination Committees says at least 1,270 people have been killed and more than 10,000 arrested since the uprising began in March.

The move toward Hama could mean that the army is preparing for a major operation there, similar to offensives in other areas in the past weeks such as the southern city of Daraa, the coastal city of Banias and the central town of Rastan where operations are still under way.

After noon prayers - and before the arrival of the tanks - tens of thousands of people streamed out of mosques carrying coffins of the dead and headed toward the two main cemeteries, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the rights group's director. As they marched in the streets carrying the coffins, the protesters chanted "our souls, our blood we sacrifice to you martyr".

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