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In unusual criticism of the Assad regime, Russia voiced concern Monday over the loss of lives in Hama. The Russian Foreign Ministry urged the Syrian government to stop violence immediately and give up provocations and repression.

It appeared the regime was making an example of Hama, a religiously conservative city of about 800,000 people some 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital, Damascus. The city largely has fallen out of government control since June as residents turned on the regime and blockaded the streets against encroaching tanks.

Early Monday, tank shells slammed at a rate of one every minute into the northeastern Hamidiyeh neighborhood of Hama, killing two people, including a man whose ceiling collapsed as he slept with his family, residents said.

A resident who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said there were about 50 tanks in roundabouts at the entrances to the city. Pro-regime snipers were shooting randomly, he said.

“It’s not an official curfew, but in effect, anyone who goes out risks being shot at,” he said.

Hama-based activist Omar Hamawi told The Associated Press by telephone Monday that “residents are committed to resistance through peaceful means.”

The city’s streets are full of barriers as well as thousands of men “who are ready to defend the city with stones,” he said. “People will not surrender this time. We will not allow a repetition of what happened in 1982.”

Hamawi said people were resorting to vigilante protection to defend themselves, improvising means to obstruct the movement of soldiers and pro-regime gunmen known as shabiha.

“People are using trees, tires, sticks and garbage containers, placing them on main and side roads to keep them away,” he said. “Some even took down their garden fences and put them on their streets.”

Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said two people were killed in the attack on Hamidiyeh neighborhood and two others in a nearby district. More than 10 others were wounded, he said, citing hospital officials in the city.

Abdul-Rahman said security forces shot and killed another two people in the eastern town of al-Boukamal near the border with Iraq. They included a 13-year-old with a bullet wound in his head, according to The Local Coordination Committees, which helps organize anti-government protests.

Residents told the AP that Sunday’s shelling struck several homes and mosques and destroyed a pharmacy.

Amateur videos posted online by activists showed the shrapnel and bullet-pocked beige and brown facade of the Hamidiyeh Mosque, its windows broken, a hole in one of its walls.

About 1,700 civilians have been killed since the largely peaceful protests against Assad’s regime began in mid-March, according to tallies by activists. The regime disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, saying religious extremists — not true reform-seekers — are behind it.

Assad said in remarks published Monday that he remains confident his government will quell the uprising, which he said is aimed at “fragmenting the country as a prelude for fragmenting the entire region.” The comments were published in the army’s As-Shaab magazine.

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