BEIRUT, (AP) – Syrian government troops backed by tanks attacked Sunday two central towns that have seen intense protests against President Bashar Assad’s regime, while security forces opened fire at demonstrators overnight in several parts of the country causing casualties, activists said.
The activists said the attack on Rastan and Talbiseh, in the central province of Homs, occurred after authorities cut all telecommunications with the area. They added that all roads leading to the two towns have been closed off by security forces and soldiers.
“The towns are under siege,” one of the activists said.
The activist spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing government reprisals.
Also Sunday, human rights activist Mustafa Osso said security forces opened fire in the early hours of Sunday at about 8,000 protesters in the northeastern town of Deir el-Zour wounding several people. He said there were protests overnight in different parts of Syria, including the Damascus suburbs of Zabadani and Douma.
Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in Syria in mid-March — a toll that has both enraged and motivated the protesters.
The 10-week-old protests have evolved from a disparate movement demanding reforms to a resilient uprising that is now seeking Assad’s ouster.
Osso said armed forces are conducting operations in the southern village of Hirak, near the city of Daraa where the uprising began.
Tanks have been used against Syrian cities and towns in the past weeks and major military operations were conducted in areas such as Daraa, the coastal town of Banias and the western town of Talkalakh near the border with Lebanon.
Al-Jazeera TV aired an amateur video showing five wounded Syrian soldiers laying on the floor of what appeared to be a hospital. It quoted activists as saying the five soldiers were shot by some of the comrades after they refused to open fire at protesters.
Assad appears determined to crush the revolt, which is posing the most serious challenge to his family’s 40-year rule. The harsh crackdown has triggered international outrage and U.S. and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.