BEIRUT – Government forces stormed restive districts of a central Syrian city on Wednesday, firing mortars and deploying snipers in an assault that killed at least one person, activists said.
The assault began Tuesday night, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists and opposition members. Shells slammed into several districts around Hama's Bab Qebli area, the LCC said.
One person was killed by sniper fire, according to the LCC and another opposition group, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Other Arab states have been stepping up pressure on Syria to end 10 months of bloodshed, which the U.N. says has left more than 5,400 people dead. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem signaled Tuesday that the crackdown will continue, adding that Syria will solve its own problems.
Al-Moallem's televised news conference came amid signs that the current Arab strategy to solve the crisis was collapsing. Gulf Arab countries on Tuesday said they were pulling their observers from an Arab League mission in Syria and urged the U.N. Security Council to take all "necessary measures" to force the country to implement a League peace plan announced Sunday to create a national unity government in two months.
Damascus has rejected the plan as a violation of national sovereignty.
Al-Moallem brushed off the threat of referring the issue to the Security Council — a move that could lead to tougher sanctions — rather than trying to resolve it regionally. The prospect of U.N. involvement has raised fears in Syria that an international intervention could be next.
The U.S., the European Union, the Arab League and Turkey all have introduced sanctions against Damascus in response to Assad's crackdown.
The uprising, which began with largely peaceful protests, has grown increasingly militarized in recent months, as frustrated regime opponents and army defectors arm themselves and fight back against government forces.
Defectors clashed with government soldiers Wednesday in northern Syria's Idlib province, activists said.
Soldiers who sided with a group of anti-regime army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army are also known to be active in Hama, and some in the city said they were the target of the current government assault.
Residents near Hama reported hearing loud explosions throughout the night and on Wednesday and said phone lines to the targeted areas were down.
"They are trying to storm the Bab Qebli, Hamidiyeh and Malaab districts because defectors are there," said Ahmad al-Jimjmi, an activist who spoke by telephone from a town several miles away.
He said the areas had recently witnessed large anti-government demonstrations, live-streamed on the Internet, in which defectors protected the protesters.
A Jordanian man of Palestinian origin meanwhile accused pro-regime militiamen of kidnapping and killing his 27-year old son in Hama.
Hafez Abu Osbeh said his son, Ahmed, 27, was kidnapped last Friday, and his body left outside his mother's residence three days later with gunshot wounds to his head. He said a description of the kidnap vehicle pointed to government loyalists.