Syrian security forces are summarily executing people on the streets of Hama, a human rights group said Thursday, raising fears that bloodshed could escalate dramatically in the besieged city even as world condemnation of the violence continues to mount.
Families are burying loved ones in gardens at home for fear of being killed themselves if they venture out to cemeteries, the Associated Press reported.
AP quoted a resident as saying, "People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street. I saw with my own eyes one young boy on a motorcycle who was carrying vegetables being run over by a tank." AP said the resident, who spoke by phone, requested anonymity because of fear of reprisals.
Activists said an initial count suggested 100 people were killed in Hama on Wednesday, bringing to more than 200 the number who have died since the military first moved Sunday to crush the revolt there as part of a broader offensive to quell the nationwide uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
An almost complete communications blackout kept Hama cut off from the outside world for a second consecutive day, making it hard to verify information or obtain an exact casualty toll. Syrian authorities suspended cellphone services, land lines, electricity and water when tanks rumbled into the city center on Wednesday, drawing an international outcry and the first statement from the United Nations condemning the brutal suppression of protesters since the revolt began in March.
But reports filtering out from residents with satellite phones and people who managed to flee painted a grim picture of a city under siege, with tanks deployed at every major intersection and bodies lying uncollected on the streets.
The human rights group Avaaz quoted a doctor at a city hospital as saying that at least 109 people were killed in bombardments and shootings during Wednesday's onslaught.
Wissam Tarif, an activist with the group, said he had spoken by satellite phone to the doctor, who counted the 109 bodies on a tour of hospitals and clinics in three neighborhoods. A number of the victims he had received at his own hospital had been shot at close range in the head, Tarif said, leading the doctor to conclude that at least some of the victims had been executed.
Hama's reputation as the site of a major massacre in 1982 in which at least 10,000 people died, during the rule of Assad's father, had led many residents to hope that the city was too sensitive a site to attack.
U.S. SANCTIONS: The Obama administration moved Thursday to further isolate Assad and his inner circle by imposing sanctions on Assad family confidante Muhammad Hamsho and his firm. The new penalties announced by the Treasury Department did not target Syria's energy sector. Officials said those sanctions, which are expected to hit state-owned and affiliated oil and gas companies that are a leading revenue source, are still in the works.