Syrian authorities kept the restive city of Hama under a blackout Thursday, cutting phone lines, Internet and electricity as part of a brutal, five-day-old crackdown on anti-government dissent.
Activists expressed concern about worsening humanitarian conditions there, saying medical supplies and bread were in short supply even before the latest siege.
Security forces killed at least seven protesters in other parts of Syria overnight when they went out to demonstrate after special nighttime prayers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, activists said. Hozan Ibrahim, of the Local Coordination Committees which tracks the crackdown, said up to 30 people may have been killed in Hama Wednesday based on reports from fleeing residents. But the reports could not be immediately verified.
Phones and Internet in Hama have been cut or severely hampered for at least two days. Electricity has been out or sporadic since Sunday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the London-based Observatory for Human Rights, said some 1,000 families have fled Hama in the past two days, most of them to the village of Mashtal Hilu west of Hama and al-Salamieh to the east.
'Many casualties expected'
The siege of Hama is part of a new government offensive to put down the country's uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule. Now in its fifth month, the protests have been gaining momentum in defiance of the military crackdown.
On Wednesday, Syrian tanks stormed Hama under heavy shelling, taking over a main city square. Activists said authorities have effectively imposed a news blackout on the city by cutting cellular and land lines and Internet after reports of at least 100 killed in the first four days of the government offensive.
Phone calls by the Associated Press to the city on Thursday were not going through. Abdul-Karim Rihawi, Damascus-based chief of the Syrian Human Rights League, said there was no information coming out from Hama on Thursday.
"A high number of casualties is expected from such a massive military operation," he said.
Ibrahim said there is concern about deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Hama because medical supplies and bread were in short supply even before the latest crackdown and those shortages were growing direr.
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