Syrian gunboats firing heavy machine guns pounded impoverished districts of Latakia on today, killing at least 19 people in a renewed assault on the Mediterranean coastal city, activists said. As the gunships blasted waterfront districts, ground troops backed by tanks and security agents stormed several neighborhoods. The sharp crackle of machine-gun fire and loud explosions could be heard across the city. "We are being targeted from the ground and the sea," said a resident of the al-Ramel district, which is also home to a Palestinian refugee camp. "The shooting is intense, many homes have been destroyed and the shabiha (thugs) have broken into shops and businesses."
The intense operation in Latakia, a key port city once known as a summer tourist draw, is part of a brutal government crackdown on several Syrian cities meant to root out protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Yesterday, at least 20 tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into the city's al-Ramel district amid intense gunfire that sent many residents fleeing the area. Activists said at least two people were killed. The security forces appear to be intent on crushing dissent in the al-Ramel neighborhood, which has seen large anti-Assad protests since the Syrian uprising in mid-March. On Friday, as many as 10,000 people took to the streets there, calling for Assad's ouster. After their initial assault on the city yesterday, Syrian security forces pushed back into Latakia again today. (Read more Syria stories.)