BEIRUT — The flashpoint Syrian city of Hama endured a fifth day under military siege Thursday, with a resident saying people were being "slaughtered like sheep" in the streets and families were burying their dead in home gardens or roadsides rather than risk a trip to a cemetery.
Food supplies grew short and residents shared bread, while phones, electricity and Internet were cut off or severely hampered.
There was no official count of the dead. One resident said around 250 people have been killed since Sunday. And a rights group that tracks death tallies reported up to 30 people were killed in Hama on Wednesday alone. The tolls could not be verified because of the difficulty reaching residents and hospital officials in the besieged city, where journalists are barred as they are throughout Syria.
One resident said he had seen gunmen in plainclothes randomly shooting people in the streets.
"People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street," said the man, who spoke to The Associated Press by phone on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "I saw with my own eyes one young boy on a motorcycle who was carrying vegetables being run over by a tank."
The assault on Hama, a center of the 5-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's iron rule, is among the most ferocious in the government's effort to crush the rebellion — and a sign of the Syrian leader's defiance of growing international condemnation.
The offensive began Sunday when Syrian security forces backed by tanks and snipers rolled into Hama in a fierce campaign that left corpses in the streets and sent residents fleeing for their lives. On Wednesday, Syrian tanks stormed Hama, taking over a main city square.
Activists, residents and human rights groups say the toll since Sunday ranges from at least 100 to as high as 250. The Local Coordination Committees, which tracks the crackdown, said up to 30 people were killed on Wednesday alone, and 50 were wounded, according to fleeing residents.
It said in a statement that the city was suffering a severe shortage of food and medical supplies and that the military was stopping any aid deliveries.
One Hama resident, reached by the AP on his cell phone after he left the city briefly in search of bread and vegetables, painted a grim picture, saying people were rationing food to get by during the holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk then eat large, festive meals after sundown.
He said the army and pro-government gunmen known as "shabiha" where shooting randomly at people and keeping food supplies from entering the city. He said he knew the gunmen were allied with the military because they sometimes walked alongside soldiers and talked to them.
Residents have resorted to burying their loved ones in home gardens or roadside pits "because we fear that if we go to the cemetery, we will end up buried along with them," the resident said. The Local Coordination Committees said many of the dead were also being buried in public parks.
Activists have expressed concern about worsening humanitarian conditions in Hama, saying medical supplies and bread were scarce even before the latest siege.
"There are military operations under way and we warn of grave human rights violations there in view of the siege," said Abdul-Karim Rihawi, the Damascus-based chief of the Syrian Human Rights League.
"A high number of casualties is expected from such a massive military operation," he said.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the London-based Observatory for Human Rights, said about 1,000 families have fled Hama in the past two days, most to the villages of Mashtal Hilu to the west and al-Salamieh to the east.
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