Syrian Activists Say Government Tanks Deploying Around Hama

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Syrian activists say government forces expanded their crackdown Thursday on an opposition uprising, deploying tanks around the historic city of Hama, where the Syrian regime crushed a revolt almost 20 years ago.
The activists say Syrian tanks first began heading toward the central city on Wednesday. Hafez al-Assad, who preceded his son Bashar al-Assad as president, shelled the city in 1982 to suppress a Sunni uprising. Rights groups say at least 10,000 people were killed.

President Assad, who succeeded his father in 2000, has been trying for weeks to crush an anti-government uprising that began in mid-March.

His forces fired Wednesday on residential areas in southern and western Syria where protesters have rallied. Rights activists say at least 19 people were killed by tank and gunfire in the southern village of al-Haraa and the western city of Homs.

Elsewhere, witnesses say security forces used batons to break up a pro-democracy demonstration on Wednesday by about 2,000 students in Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city.

US criticism

The U.S. State Department sharpened its criticism of the Syrian crackdown, Wednesday, accusing Damascus of engaging in “barbaric” and “repressive” measures that amount to “collective punishment of innocent civilians.”

Spokesman Mark Toner said the Syrian government needs to realize that the “window is narrowing” for it to change course toward “meeting the legitimate aspirations” of the Syrian people.

Syrian rights activists say the number of people killed across the country in the anti-government uprising ranges from 600 to 700. There is no independent confirmation of casualty figures because Syria has banned most international journalists from the country.

In an apparent gesture to the opposition, the Syrian government formed a commission Wednesday to draft a new election law.  Assad has announced several reforms in recent weeks.  He lifted a 48-year state of emergency, while intensifying his crackdown on the protests.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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