Gunfire in Syrian coastal city; 35 dead in 4 days

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Beirut, Aug 16: Heavy machine-gun fire erupted across the besieged Syrian city of Latakia today (Aug 16) as the death toll rose to 35 from a military assault now in its fourth day, residents and activists said.

President Bashar Assad has dramatically escalated the crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising since the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Despite broad condemnation, the regime is trying to retake control in rebellious areas by unleashing tanks, ground troops and snipers.

Assad has launched military operations in the opposition stronghold of Hama, the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, the central city of Homs and now the port city of Latakia.

Most of the shooting early Monday was in Latakia's impoverished al-Ramel, al-Shaab and Ein Tamra areas. Al-Ramel is home to a crowded Palestinian refugee camp where many low-income Syrians also live.

The UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees said yesterday more than 5,000 refugees have fled the camp after Assad's forces shelled the city in an operation that began Saturday. UNRWA said the Palestinians fled after the city came under fire from gunboats cruising off the coast and ground troops attacked over the weekend.

"We are calling for access to the camp to find out what is going on," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. "There were 10,000 refugees in the camp and we need to find out what is happening to them." Syria has denied firing from gunboats, despite widespread witness accounts. The regime insists its crackdown is aimed at rooting out terrorists fomenting unrest in the country. 

AP

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