- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2011

BEIRUT — Gunmen in plainclothes were randomly shooting people in the streets of the besieged Syrian city of Hama, and families were burying their loved ones in gardens at home for fear of being killed themselves if they venture out to cemeteries, a resident said Thursday.

Military forces on Sunday launched an offensive against anti-government dissent in Hama, and at least 100 people have been killed since, according to human rights groups. Phones, Internet and electricity have been cut or severely hampered for days.

The resident told the Associated Press that people are being forced to ration food and share bread to get by during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, then celebrate with large, festive meals after sundown.

“People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street,” said the resident, who spoke by phone on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “I saw with my own eyes one young boy on a motorcycle who was carrying vegetables being run over by a tank.”

He said he left Hama briefly through side roads to smuggle in food supplies.

The resident said about 250 people have been killed since Sunday. Hozan Ibrahim, of the Local Coordination Committees, which track the crackdown on protesters, said up to 30 people may have been killed in Hama Wednesday based only on reports from fleeing residents. But neither of those numbers could be immediately verified.

Families have resorted to burying their loved ones in home gardens or roadside pits “because we fear that if we go to the cemetery, we will end up buried along with them,” the resident said.

He said the army and pro-government gunmen, known as “shabiha,” have been shooting randomly at people and keeping food supplies from entering the city. He said he knew they are allied with the military because they sometimes walk behind soldiers and talk to them.

Activists have expressed concern about worsening humanitarian conditions in Hama, saying medical supplies and bread were in short supply even before the latest siege.

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 about 1,000 families have fled Hama in the past two days, most of them to the village of Mashtal Hilu west of Hama and to al-Salamieh to the east.

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.

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