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19 killed in Syrian port battles

At least 19 people have been killed in the Syrian port of Latakia after gunboats pounded the city with heavy machine-gun fire.

The attack was the latest wave of the regime's crackdown on anti-government protests.

A new military offensive began in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the start of August when several hundred people were killed in the first week alone, according to human rights groups and activists.

As the gunships blasted poor, waterfront districts, ground troops backed by tanks and security agents stormed several neighbourhoods.

"We are being targeted from the ground and the sea," said a resident of the al-Ramel district, which is also home to a Palestinian refugee camp. "The shooting is intense. Many homes have been destroyed and the shabiha (pro-regime thugs) have broken into shops and businesses."

The resident, who did not wish to be named, said at least three gunboats were taking part in the offensive.

A large number of people were injured as a result of the indiscriminate firing on houses, campaigners said. "They are trying to take control of the city as they did in other places," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory.

The security forces appear to be intent on crushing dissent in the al-Ramel neighbourhood, which has seen large protests against President Bashar Assad since the uprising began in mid-March.

On Friday, as many as 10,000 people took to the streets in the area, calling for Assad to quit. On Saturday, at least 20 tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled into the district amid intense gunfire that sent many residents fleeing the area. Two people were killed.

On Sunday and in al-Ramel alone, at least 23 people have been killed, said Abdul-Rahman. Activist network the Local Co-ordination Committees put the number at 19.


From Belfast Telegraph