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BEIRUT — Syrian security forces pounded the city of Hama with tank shelling and opened fire on protesters who streamed into the streets across the country Friday calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad, killing at least four and wounding more than a dozen.
The fierce, six-day-old siege of Hama, which has killed at least 100 people, did little to intimidate protesters. Anti-Assad marches spread from the capital, Damascus, to the southern province of Daraa and to Deir al-Zour in the east. Other demonstrations were reported in Homs in the center and in Qamishli, near the Turkish border.
Security forces opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas in several cities, activists said. At least four people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen, said rights activists Mustafa Osso and the Local Coordination Committees, a group that tracks protests. Osso reported at least 10 people wounded in Arbeen.
Activists also said three people were wounded in Homs.
In Hama, tanks shelled residential districts around 4 a.m. on Friday, a resident said.
"If people get wounded, it is almost impossible to take them to hospital," the resident said by telephone, asking for anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
He added that the city was also bombed at sunset Thursday as people were breaking their dawn-to-dusk fast, which Muslims observe during the holy month of Ramadan.
Hama, a city of 800,000 with a history of dissent, had fallen largely out of government control since June as residents turned on the regime and blockaded the streets against encroaching tanks. But Syrian security forces backed by tanks and snipers launched a ferocious military offensive that left corpses in streets Sunday and sent residents fleeing for their lives, according to residents.
In 1982, Assad's father, Hafez Assad, ordered the military to quell a rebellion by Syrian members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood movement there. Hama was sealed off and bombs dropped from above smashed swaths of the city and killed between 10,000 and 25,000 people, rights groups say.
Although there has been a near-total communications blackout in Hama — with electricity, internet and phone service cut off — witnesses have painted a grim picture of life in the city.
"People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street," a resident said Thursday, speaking 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." He said he left Hama briefly through side roads to smuggle in food supplies.
The uprising began in mid-March, inspired by the revolutions sweeping the Arab world. Friday has become the main day for protests in Syria, despite the near-certainty that tanks and snipers will respond with deadly force.
More than 1,700 civilians have been killed in the regime crackdown on the uprising since March.
Assad has largely brushed off international pressure on his regime.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday he has warned Syria's leader that he will face a "sad fate" if he fails to introduce reforms in his country and open a peaceful dialogue with the opposition.
In the United States, the Obama administration moved to further isolate Assad and his inner circle imposing sanctions on a prominent pro-regime businessman and his firm.
Thursday's sanctions against Assad family confidante Muhammad Hamsho and his firm, Hamsho International Group, freeze any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. Hamsho's holding company has about 20 subsidiaries ranging from construction, civil engineering, telecommunications and hotels to carpet sales, horse trading and ice cream production.
Bassem Mroue can be reached http://twitter.com/bmroue
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