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Activist: 3 killed as Syrian security forces clash with Hama residents

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Syrian opposition tries to unite
  • NEW: Syrian tanks are lined up around Hama, an opposition activist says
  • NEW: He says 3 residents died in clashes with security forces on Monday
  • A human rights group estimates that 25 to 30 activists are arrested
  • Hama was the scene of a bloody military crackdown in 1982

(CNN) -- Dozens of security forces began raiding homes and arresting tens of activists on the outskirts of Hama, Syria, early Monday prior to clashes that led to the deaths of three people, an opposition activist and a human rights group said.

Security forces arrested 25 to 30 activists before dawn, said Rami Abdelrahman, president of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Angry residents then took to the streets, with some throwing stones at the security forces.

Three people died and 25 were injured in the resulting clashes, which went on for several hours, said a member of the Local Coordination Committees of Syria in Hama. His group describes itself as an opposition group seeking "freedom, democracy and a free country for all the people of Syria."

The activist in Hama, who is not named for security reasons, said later Monday that about 100 army tanks were positioned on the city's borders, though none were yet within the city limits.

About 1,000 young people, meanwhile, had taken up positions around the eastern Syrian city hoping to protect residents. Their only weapons are stones, according to the coordination committees' member.

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Hama has been the scene of large demonstrations, and the outpourings there have been compared to the gatherings in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- where daily demonstrations earlier this year led to the removal of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The city was the scene of a brutal military crackdown targeting Sunni Muslims by the Alawite-dominated government of Hafez al-Assad, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's late father, in 1982. Thousands were killed.

Sunni Muslims are the dominant religious group in the country and Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Security forces withdrew from the center of Hama last month, and al-Aasi Square has been packed with protesters calling for the downfall of the regime.

Widespread protests in Syria began in Daraa and took hold across the country as government forces cracked down on peaceful demonstrations.

Twenty-four people died in the anti-government demonstrations across Syria on Friday, according to the Local Coordination Committees.

Abdelrahman, of the Syria Observatory for Human Rights, has said more than 1,360 civilians and more than 340 army and security forces have died in the violence.

Human Rights Watch, the humanitarian watchdog, issued a report on Saturday elaborating on the crackdown in Homs, saying government security forces and their allies have killed at least 21 people there over the past two weeks.

The rights group said security forces have used clubs to beat demonstrators, "vandalized private property, and broken into homes where they suspected protesters had sought refuge. Security forces dressed in civilian clothes have detained protesters repeatedly, often travelling in taxis to approach and detain people."

International powers have condemned and sanctioned the Syrian government for its crackdown, and there has been talk by some observers that the International Criminal Court should investigate possible crimes against humanity by the government.

Amid the criticism, Syria has talked about reforms and has permitted opposition members to hold a meeting.

The government allowed about 200 activists and intellectuals, including some it had previously jailed, to hold a conference on democratic reform last week at a Damascus hotel -- the first such gathering allowed by the regime. The dissidents gathered in the hotel ballroom, including several signatories of a 2005 declaration that called for a democratic transition.

On Friday, government minders escorted international journalists to anti-government protests.

But international concern about the regime persisted.

Mark Toner, U.S. State Department spokesman, told reporters on Friday that the United States wants to see "dialogue and a transition process" and echoed President Barack Obama's statement that if al-Assad can't lead a reform process, "he should get out of the way."

Toner said the United States backs the "universal human right" of peaceful protests and the right of freedom of expression. He said "arbitrary arrests of innocent civilians" must end, political prisoners must be released, state-run media must stop incitement and violence against peaceful protesters must end.

CNN's Yasmin Amer, Salma Abdelaziz and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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