Activists say at least 23 people have been killed in the Syrian military's assault on the flashpoint city of Hama.
A spokesman for The Local Coordination Committees which organizes and monitors anti-government protests in Syria says the group has the names of 23 civilians who died in the onslaught Sunday.
Omar Idilbi says the number is likely to be much higher and says local hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops in tanks stormed the flashpoint city of Hama before dawn Sunday, killing at least 13 people in a barrage of shelling and gunfire that left bodies scattered in the streets, activists and residents said.
Residents shouting "God is great!" threw firebombs and stones at the tanks as they pushed through the city.
"It's a massacre, they want to break Hama before the month of Ramadan," an eyewitness who identified himself by his first name, Ahmed, told The Associated Press by telephone.Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties and were seeking blood donations, he said.
Activists have predicted that demonstrations will escalate during the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday, as the protesters and government forces try to tip the balance in a remarkably resilient uprising that began in mid-March.
During Ramadan, Muslims throng mosques for special night prayers after breaking their daily dawn-to-dusk fast. The gatherings could trigger intense protests throughout the predominantly Sunni country and activists say authorities are moving to ensure that doesn't happen.
An estimated 1,600 civilians have died in the crackdown on the largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime since the uprising began. Most of the dead were killed in shootings by security forces on anti-government rallies.
Hama, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital Damascus, has become one of the hottest centers of the demonstrations. In early June, security forces shot dead 65 people there, and since then it has fallen out of government control, with protesters holding the streets and government forces ringing the city and conducting overnight raids.
The city has a history of dissent against the Assad dynasty. In 1982, Assad's late father, Hafez Assad, ordered his brother to quell a rebellion by Syrian members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood movement. The city 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.More...