SANA) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, Associated Press
BEIRUT — Anti-government protesters in the Syrian city of Hama set up barricades and took up sticks and stones to defend themselves Monday after one of the bloodiest days so far in the regime's campaign to quell an uprising now in its fifth month.
The protesters vowed not to allow a repeat of 1982, when thousands of people were killed in Hama after President Bashar Assad's father ordered a massacre.
As evening fell, residents said Syrian tanks resumed intense shelling of the restive city and troops fired machine guns at worshippers about to head to mosques for special nighttime prayers on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Residents had just broken their daily dawn-to-dusk fast, and the shelling appeared aimed at preventing the mosque gatherings, fearing they would trigger large anti-government protests.
It was the second day of shelling of Hama and other cities. In attacks earlier in the day, four people were killed in Hama and three more were killed in other parts of the country, residents and rights groups said.
"It's a crime! Where is the world? Why doesn't anyone see?" cried one distraught resident through the phone, the sound of gunfire heard clearly in the background. The residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they were certain there were casualties, but there was no immediate word on numbers.
The current crackdown appears aimed at preventing protests from swelling during Ramadan. Muslims throng mosques during Ramadan for the special nightly prayers after breaking their daytime fast. The gatherings could then turn into large protests throughout the country.
Sunday's violence left 74 people dead throughout the country, 55 of them from Hama and neighboring villages, according to a statement issued by six Syrian rights groups.
The attacks drew harsh rebukes from the U.S. and Europe, which expanded its sanctions against Syria, imposing asset freezes and travel bans against five more military and government officials Monday.
"We find these violent attempts by the Syrian regime to target civilians on the eve of Ramadan to be despicable and abhorrent," said U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
In Hama, many people were too frightened to venture out after the evening barrage of shellfire, but a few groups of people staged scattered protests in the city's main Assi square.
Elsewhere, tens of thousands of Syrians in the central city of Homs, Damascus suburbs and areas of the south marched out of mosques after evening prayers chanting slogans of support for the people of Hama and calling for the downfall of the regime.
The Observatory for Human Rights said security forces opened fire on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, killing one and wounding five others. Troops also opened fire on a protest in Homs, but there was no word on casualties.
The international community has grown increasingly outraged by the Assad regime's attacks against civilians, but has so far refrained from calling on him to step down. On Monday, Britain's foreign secretary William Hague said there would be no international military intervention in Syria.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled closed-door consultations on Syria late Monday at Germany's request.
Germany, Britain, France and Portugal have tried unsuccessfully since April to get the U.N.'s most powerful body to condemn Syrian attacks on unarmed civilians. The United States strongly supports their efforts and a draft resolution the Europeans circulated in late May, but they have faced opposition from veto-wielding Russia and China as well as South Africa, Brazil and India, which holds the council presidency this month.
In unusual criticism of the Assad regime, Russia voiced concern Monday over the loss of lives in Hama. The Russian Foreign Ministry urged the Syrian government to stop violence immediately and give up provocations and repression.
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