AMMAN, (Reuters) – Syrian tanks and navy ships shelled the main Mediterra-nean port city of Latakia yesterday, residents and rights groups said, killing 26 people as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched an offensive by land and sea to crush protests against his rule.
Since the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan on Aug. 1, Assad’s forces have mounted operations across the country to try to suppress protests demanding political freedom and an end to 41 years of Assad family rule.
“I can see the silhouettes of two grey vessels. They are firing their guns and the impact is landing on al-Raml al-Filistini and al-Shaab neighbourhoods,” one witness told Reuters by phone from Latakia, where tanks and armoured vehicles were deployed three months ago to crush dissent against Assad in mainly Sunni neighbourhoods of the mixed city.
“This is the most intense attack on Latakia since the uprising. Anyone who sticks his head out of the window risks being shot. They want to finish off the demonstrations for good,” he said.
Around 20,000 people have been rallying daily to demand Assad’s removal in different areas of the city after Rama-dan evening prayers, said the witness, a university student who did not want to be further identified.
The Syrian National Organisation for Human Rights, headed by dissident Ammar al-Qurabi, said it had the names of 26 civilians killed in Latakia, including a two-year-old girl, Ola al-Jablawi. The deaths came after security forces shot dead 20 people during nationwide marches on Friday.
Assad comes from Qerdaha, a village in the Alawite Mountains 28 km (17 miles) southeast of Latakia, where his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, is buried.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the casualties were shot by machineguns.