Syrian troops roll into Hama, a symbol of antigovernment activity

Posted July 04, 2011, at 10:20 p.m.

BEIRUT — Syrian tanks, troops and bulldozers on Monday swept into a city that has long been a potent symbol of the nation’s pro-democracy movement, raiding houses and hunting down activists opposed to President Bashar Assad’s rule.

Witnesses and activists said at least three people were killed, including a 12-year-old boy, and dozens injured as security forces stormed into the outskirts of Hama. Hafez Assad, the president’s father and predecessor, brutally crushed an uprising against his rule in the restive city in 1982.

The latest sweep came three days after residents held one of the largest protests in the 3½-month uprising against the regime.

“Security forces blocked the entrances around the city during the night, which made it impossible for people to leave the area,” said Omar Hamwe, a resident and member of the Syrian Local Coordination Committee, a leading protest group.

The government’s raid on Hama, which followed the firing Saturday of the provincial governor amid rumors the official had refused to allow troops to fire on protesters, lent credence to the demonstrators’ contention that Assad’s recent promises of reform were little more than window dressing.

In Hama’s protest hotspots, security forces ambushed worshipers at early morning prayers, including the elderly, a witness said. Plainclothes and uniformed security forces took turns searching homes and detaining suspects. Armed men broke down doors, entering houses while residents were still asleep.

“Even people severely wounded weren’t spared,” Hamwe said. “The security forces still managed to drag away those who were injured by the attacks.”

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