In Syria, Hama Residents Document Fierce Crackdown
The residents of Hama, a religiously conservative city in central Syria, have a bitter history with the Assad family that has ruled the country for four decades.
Government opponents rose up in 1982 against Hafez Assad, the former president, and he responded with massive military force that reduced parts of the city to rubble. It took weeks for details to reach the wider world, and there has never been a full accounting. But human-rights groups estimate that anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 people were killed.
Now, President Bashar Assad, the son of the former president, has again unleashed the military on Hama. This time, the city is just one of many throughout Syria that have risen up against the regime. Tanks and armored personnel carriers have seized the streets and destroyed barricades set up by activists. The Assad government has barred foreign journalists and cut off phones, electricity and Internet service in the city. Activists say they have been relying on satellite communications. More than 100 people have been killed this past week, according to residents of the city.
Meanwhile, the government-controlled media said the security forces were restoring order to a city that had "been taken over by terrorists."
But activists in Hama have managed to document the fierce military crackdown with video posted primarily on YouTube. NPR has compiled a gallery of those images. Because Hama has been largely cut off, it has not been possible to independently verify the material.
But the videos and witness accounts paint a clear picture of a city under siege. Few residents are willing to venture out of their homes for fear of being shot. Private homes have often been hit, according to activists who describe shooting and shelling by the military as indiscriminate. Some of the dead have been buried hurriedly in public parks and gardens. Shops remain closed and supplies of food and medicine are running low.
The Assad government has sought to suppress dissent nationwide, and the operation in Hama appears to be its most intensive effort since the uprising began in March. Despite the crackdown, protesters were again in the streets of many cities on Friday following the traditional midday prayers. More casualties were reported.