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AP photo/SANA

Hama streets fall quiet as Syrian government claims the city

Images broadcast by Syrian state media indicate that the military believes it has crushed the uprising in Hama. At least 13 people were killed in protests across Syrian today.

THE STATE MEDIA of Syria has broadcast images of burned buildings and rubble-strewn streets in Hama, which has been at the centre of an onslaught by tanks and troops in recent days.

The Syrian government has proclaimed today that it succeeded in crushing the uprising in the city.

Across the country, tens of thousands of protesters marched through cities, chanting their solidarity with Hama and demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad. They were met by security forces who opened fire, killing at least 13 people, activists said.

Their numbers were lower than previous Fridays, when hundreds of thousands nationwide turned out for protests — likely because this was the first Friday in the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn until dusk and go outside less, particularly in the summer heat.

That could augur disappointment for protest leaders, who had hoped to escalate the uprising during the month and even mark a turning point in the quest to topple the 40-year Assad family dynasty’s rule.

Government forces began their siege on Hama on Sunday, cutting off electricity, phone services and internet and blocking supplies into the city of 800,000 as they shelled neighborhoods and sent in ground raids.

It appeared to be an all-out attempt to take back the city — which has a history of dissent — after residents all but took over, barricading it against the regime. Rights group say at least 100 people have been killed so far while some estimates have put the number as high as 250.

The tolls could not be verified because of the difficulty reaching residents and hospital officials in the besieged city, where journalists are barred as they are throughout Syria.

Tanks shelled residential districts starting around 4 a.m. today, just as people were beginning their daily fast — mirroring a round of bombardment the evening before at sunset when they were breaking the fast, one resident told The Associated Press.

“If people get wounded, it is almost impossible to take them to hospital,” the resident said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Syrian state media today proclaimed that army units are “working to restore security, stability and normal life to Hama” after it was taken over by “terrorists.”

For the first time since the siege began, government-run TV and the state news agency aired images of ravaged streets in the city, strewn with debris, damaged vehicles and makeshift barricades set up by protesters.

One image showed a yellow taxi with a dead man in the driver’s seat and bloodstains on the door. A tank cleared away a large cement barrier and a bus with shattered windows.

Hama streets fall quiet as Syrian government claims the city
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  • Hama

    In this photo taken yesterday and released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, empty streets with debris are shown of what SANA describes as the Syrian army restoring "security and stability" to the central city of Hama.(AP Photo/SANA)
  • Hama

    Damaged cars are shown in Hama. (AP Photo/SANA)
  • Hama

    In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, empty streets with debris are shown of what SANA describes as the Syrian army restoring "security and stability". (AP Photo/SANA)
  • Hama

    Streets blocked with barriers are shown in the central city of Hama. (AP Photo/SANA)

There were no reports of protests in the city during the day today — a contrast to previous weeks when hundreds of thousands in the city participated in the biggest marches in the country.

Hama has seen government crackdowns before. In 1982, Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, ordered the military to quell a rebellion by Syrian members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood movement there. Hama was sealed off and bombs dropped from above smashed swaths of the city and killed between 10,000 and 25,000 people, rights groups say.

Although there has been a near-total communications blackout in Hama, witnesses have painted a grim picture of life in the city. “People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street,” a resident said Thursday, speaking by phone on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

There were also fears of an intensified assault on a second city, the oil center of Deir el-Zour in the east, where tanks have been deployed at entrances since earlier this week.

Assad has largely brushed off international pressure on his regime.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday he has warned Assad that he will face a “sad fate” if he fails to introduce reforms in his country and open a peaceful dialogue with the opposition.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, returned to Damascus on Friday after several days in Washington holding confirmation hearings at Congress and meeting with President Barack Obama.

Some lawmakers had urged the administration to recall Ford permanently as a further show of displeasure with the Assad regime. Italy this week recalled its ambassador and urged others to do the same.

- Additional reporting by AP

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