BEIRUT, (AP) – The Syrian military used heavy machine-guns and artillery in fresh attacks on a town in the country’s turbulent heartland Tuesday, killing at least one person, activists said.
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria, which helps organize and document the country’s protests, said heavy gunfire could be heard in Rastan, which is a few miles (kilometers) north of the central city of Homs and has been under attack since Sunday.
They identified the latest person killed as Ibrahim Salmoun, who died Tuesday. His death raises to 16 the number of people killed in the three-day crackdown in Homs province, which has witnessed some of the largest anti-government demonstrations in recent weeks.
Syria is determined to crush the ten-week old revolt against the government, which it says is being led by Islamic extremists and armed gangs. State media said four soldiers and security forces were killed.
Mohammad Said Bkheitan, assistant secretary general of the Baath party, said the number of protesters across the country does not exceed 100,000. “They are the same people who demonstrate each time,” he said in comments to Damascus University party cadres that aired late Monday on Syrian TV.
Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been killed and thousands of others arrested in the crackdown, which has drawn condemnation and sanctions from the United States and European Union.
Bkheitan said mechanisms for a national dialogue would be announced within the next 48 hours and said a general amnesty is expected to be issued soon. He did not elaborate.
Details coming out of Syria are sketchy because the government has placed severe restrictions on the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts coming out of the country.
Activists told The Associated Press Monday that Homs residents were using automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to repel advancing government troops, putting up a fierce fight for the first time in their two-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime.
The activists said the fighting involved individual residents protecting themselves, as opposed to an organized armed resistance with an overall command structure.
Monday’s accounts were the first credible reports of serious resistance by residents taking up arms. Some reports have also surfaced of civilians fighting back in the town of Talkalakh near the border with Lebanon. The government and several rights group say more than 150 soldiers and policemen have been killed since the unrest began.