BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian gunboats firing heavy machine guns pounded impoverished districts of Latakia on Sunday, killing at least five people in a renewed assault on the Mediterranean coastal city, activists said.
As the gunships blasted waterfront districts, ground troops backed by tanks and security agents stormed several neighborhoods. The sharp crackle of machine-gun fire and loud explosions could be heard across the city.
The intense operations in Latakia, a key port city once known as a summer tourist draw, are part of a brutal government crackdown on several Syrian cities meant to root out protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad.
At least 20 tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into the city’s al-Ramel district Saturday amid intense gunfire that sent many residents fleeing the area. Activists said at least two people were killed in the initial assault.
The al-Ramel section of Latakia has seen large protests against Assad’s regime since demonstrations broke out throughout the country in mid-March. Up to 10,000 people turned out in protests in the area Friday.
Activists said Syrian security forces stormed several districts in Latakia Sunday.
At least five people have died in the shooting according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the activist network the Local Coordination Committees.
They said gunboats in the Mediterranean are taking part in Sunday’s assault. He says they are firing heavy machine guns at al-Ramel. A large number of people were wounded as a result of the indiscriminate firing on houses, they said.
The government has justified its crackdown by saying it’s dealing with terrorist gangs and criminals who are fomenting unrest.
The Syrian uprising was inspired by the revolts and calls for reform sweeping the Arab world, and activists and rights groups say most of those killed have been unarmed civilians. An aggressive new military offensive that began with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the start of August has killed several hundred people in just one week.