Syrian troops storm central city

July 11, 2011 - 6:44 AM
Mideast Syria

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA and according to them, thousands of supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, carry a gigantic 17,500 yards (16,000 meters) Syrian flag during a pro-Assad demostration, in the Mediterranean city of Latakia, northewest of Damascus, syria, on Sunday July 10, 2011. Leading Syrian opposition figures and prominent activists have shunned government-sponsored reform talks, saying they will not participate as long as the regime ruthlessly cracks down on protesters. The regime of the family dynasty of President Bashar Assad is grappling with a four-month-old anti-government uprising, using a mix of violence and promises of reform to quell the nationwide demonstrations. (AP Photo/SANA) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops stormed into the country's third-largest city with armored personnel carriers and heavy machine guns, a rights activist said Monday, as dialogue over possible government reforms moved into a second day in Damascus. At least two people were killed and 20 wounded in the attacks in Homs, activists said.

The clashes in Homs in central Syria suggest the regime of President Bashar Assad will not ease its four-month-old crackdown on the opposition despite proposing some political changes.

Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa called Sunday for a transition to democracy in a country ruled for four decades by the authoritarian Assad family dynasty. But the talks, which wrap up Monday, are boycotted by the main anti-government factions and are unlikely to produce any breakthroughs to immediately end the bloodshed.

The two days of meetings, however, were seen as a major concession by Assad's regime after the most serious challenge to its rule. Some 1,600 civilians and 350 members of security forces have been killed since demonstrations began in March, activists say.

In Homs, an activist in the city told The Associated Press clashes occurred after security forces killed on Sunday the son of an anti-regime tribal leader. The unrest lasted until 5 a.m. (0200 GMT) Monday.

Street lights were turned off then troops started entering neighborhoods, shooting with heavy machine guns atop Russian-made armored personnel carriers, said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

He said some people cowered in their bathrooms during the height of the assault. At least one person was killed and 20 wounded, the activist said.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, the London-based director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said forces pushed into parts of Homs.

Also Monday, the state-run news agency SANA reported that Assad named Anas Abdul-Razzaq Naem as a new governor of the central city of Hama, that has been out of government control since early June.

Naem replaced Ahmed Khaled Abdul-Aziz, who was fired earlier this month as apparent punishment for allowing protesters to stage a huge rally in the city earlier this month.

The new governor is the secretary general of the Baath party branch at Hama and the head of the doctors' association in the city.

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Bassem Mroue can be reached at http://twitter.com/bmroue