BEIRUT (AP) — The death toll in a government security crackdown in northern Syrian town has risen to 25, a human rights group said on Sunday.
Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths in the town of Jisr al-Shughour included four policemen. The operation is part of a crackdown that began Saturday and was continuing Sunday.
He and other activists said the Syrian military, meanwhile, pulled back tanks from the outskirts of the tense central city of Hama and in southern villages.
A resident of the city, where least 65 anti-government protesters were killed Friday, said the tanks retreated from the outskirts of Hama overnight.
Editor's note: This video contains disturbing images.
He said the situation in Hama remained "very tense." Residents were conducting a general strike in memory of those previously killed when security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters Friday.
"Most of the shops here are closed, people are grieving and worried," he said by telephone on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The deaths in Hama and reports of tanks headed there had caused new alarm. The city rose up against Assad's father in 1982, only to be crushed in a three-week bombing campaign that killed thousands. Memories of those days are still raw.
Activists said the army also withdrew from the villages of Dael and Hirak near the city of Daraa where the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in mid-March.
The military had been conducting military operations in the area for days.
The Local Coordination Committees, which helps organize and document the protests calling for an end to the Assad regime, said a total of 18 people died in Hirak and 12 in Dael since the start of the operations.
The activists reports could not be independently confirmed. The Syrian government has severely restricted the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to independently verify events there.
Details of the operations in Jisr al-Shughour were also sketchy and attempts to reach residents of the town were unsuccessful, possibly because communications have been cut.
State-run news agency SANA said Sunday four policemen were killed and more than 20 wounded in the area when "armed terrorist" groups attacked government buildings and police stations.
It said the groups have been launching attacks against government buildings since Saturday, setting fire to a nmber of public and private buildings, cutting off roads and intimidating residents.