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Hama Death Toll Rises to 23

The death-toll in Assad's crackdown in Hama has risen to 23 in two days following some of the largest protests his regime has faced to date.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 7/5/2011, 9:52 PM

The death toll in two-days of ongoing violence in Hama has risen to 23 as troops and gunmen loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad open fire on protesters who, earlier in the day, said they were preparing to deny government forces access to the city.

Tanks were reportedly still surrounding Hama as violence continued on the outskirts of the city, which has seen some of the largest anti-regime protests in the 14-week uprising that erupted in March.

The attacks focused on two Hama districts north of the Orontes River, which splits the city of nearly 800,000 people in two. Residents said the dead included two brothers, Baha and Khaled al-Nahar, who were killed at a roundabout.

One witness told Al-Jazeera that "heavily armed" security forces "fired randomly at people all around."

Some residents of Hama, scene of a bloody massacre of some 20,000 by Assad's father nearly 30 years ago, had sought to halt any military advance into the city by blocking roads between neighborhoods with garbage containers, burning tires, wood and metal.

Tuesday's raid by heavily armed Assad loyalists followed the killings of at least three people when troops and gunmen entered Hama at dawn on Monday.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said the world could not stand by "inactive and powerless" in the face of such violence.

"We are hoping that the Security Council will adopt a clear and firm position and we call on all the members of the Security Council to take responsibility in light of this dramatic situation with a Syrian population subjected day after day to an unacceptable, ferocious and implacable armed repression."

French MP Gerard Bapt, head of the French-Syrian Friendship Committee, said Arab malaise over Assad's crackdown undercut international pressure.

"With the Arab League not moving and with a nation like Saudi Arabia saying nothing publicly to condemn the killings by the Syrian regime it is difficult to see international pressure rising beyond the economic."