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Major Crackdown In Syria's Homs


A YouTube video grab allegedly shows Syrian security forces beating up handcuffed and blindfolded detained men near the central city of Homs
Syrian forces are reported to have launched a major crackdown in the central city of Homs.

Little news filters out of Syria, where the government has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted coverage of the unrest. But an amateur video purportedly smuggled out of the embattled central city, shot out the window of a home, shows a city under siege, the sounds of gunfire all around. In the street outside, a group of soldiers runs nervously one-by-one across an intersection, fearful of sniper fire.

Residents brave enough to talk to reporters by phone say at least two more people were killed, and dozens more wounded, as the government stepped down its crackdown in the city on July 21.

Rights activists say up to 50 people have been killed in Homs since July 16.

Now in the city, appearing more and more frequently, are groups of pro-government gunmen known as "shabiha." They are said to break down the doors of houses and enter looking for anyone they suspect of disloyalty to the regime.

"I can see smoke billowing from the neighborhood," a witness told reporters by telephone from Homs. He added, "we cannot leave our homes" for fear of being shot dead by soldiers or gunmen.

Frequently, calls for blood donations blare from mosque loudspeakers, raising fears there are many casualties.

Meanwhile, the only news of what is happening that appears on Syrian state-media is the official version.

The Syrian news agency, SANA, carries interviews with injured soldiers who say they came under attack from armed groups using machine guns and heavy weapons.

The official news agency said 40 people -- 32 security force members and eight civilians -- were wounded by gunfire in two neighborhoods of Homs on July 21.

Syria's nationwide opposition is calling for new protests today against the regime and in support of embattled Homs.

Activists are calling for people to take to the streets after Friday prayers. They say that last Friday more than 1 million people took part in nationwide demonstrations.

The uprising in Syria, which started in mid-March, poses the gravest threat that President Bashar al-Assad has faced in his decades-long rule of the country.

More than 1,400 people have been killed by security forces since March and thousands arrested.

On July 21, the German Foreign Ministry said "the siege of the city of Homs" must end.

compiled from agency reports