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Syrian government: Mission in Latakia completed

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Syrian coastal city remains under fire
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A number of gunmen reportedly arrested
  • U.N. concerned over reports of security fire into Palestinian camp
  • Syria's government-run media denounces international reports as untrue
  • More than 2,500 people have died since the uprising began, opposition activists say

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(CNN) -- Security forces finished their mission in Syria's coastal city of Latakia by "putting an end to the armed terrorist groups who terrified the safe citizens by their criminal acts" and were pulling out, the state-run news agency reported.

Citing an "official source" in the Interior Ministry, the Syrian Arab News Agency said a number of gunmen had been arrested.

At least five people died there Tuesday, according to a resident who requested anonymity for safety reasons, and the city remained under siege amid a military offensive against protesters.

The humanitarian situation has deteriorated amid the government's offensive in the city. Shops and bakeries were closed, and at least two mosques were damaged. The gunfire could be heard "all night and morning," the witness said.

"This is the fourth day that we do not have electricity or water. Landline phone connections have been down most of the day," he said by satellite phone.

Snipers perched atop various locations in the city's al-Ramel neighborhood, the site of a Palestinian refugee camp, he said.

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RELATED TOPICS
  • Syria
  • Latakia
  • Bashar Assad

Demonstrations have taken place in the Ramel area every day since the Syrian uprising began five months ago, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a loose coalition of activists who document and organize protests.

The LCC said the area's lack of basic urban services could explain why Ramel residents are angry at the Syrian government.

"The tragedy of (Ramel) has not stopped since yesterday," the LCC said Tuesday in a statement.

The refugee camp normally holds 10,000 people, but reports have surfaced of many people fleeing violence there.

The resident said much of the Ramel area had been evacuated.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, expressed alarm over reports of heavy gunfire from Syrian security forces into the refugee camp and other areas.

"Reports from various sources indicate deaths and casualties among the Palestinian refugee population, although poor communications make it impossible to confirm the exact number of dead and injured," it said in a statement.

Christopher Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said refugees in Latakia had been asked to leave by the Syrian security forces. He said some left on their own because they were afraid for their lives.

"We are asking the Syrian government for immediate access to the Palestinians, as their well-being is our responsibility," Gunness told CNN.

The Syrian government denied reports that more than 5,000 Palestinians fled the refugee camp in the area after it came under fire from Syrian security forces. It said Tuesday that reports of shelling by the navy on Ramel were "completely untrue."

Videos posted Tuesday on YouTube purportedly showed anti-government demonstrations in a host of cities, including Homs, Daraa and Damascus.

A video posted on YouTube Monday purportedly shows a dead girl who was shot in the eye as her father drove with her by a security checkpoint in Latakia.

Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group, said the girl and her parents were trying to flee in their car. The father was shot in the shoulder and the mother was lightly wounded.

Bloodshed in the country has persisted since a government crackdown on anti-government protesters started in mid-March.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put Monday's death toll at 17, with six fatalities in Homs, five of them occurring when security forces fired at demonstrators after night prayers and the sixth death allegedly stemming from torture. Another four people were killed in villages in Homs province, six in Latakia and one who had been wounded earlier died in the eastern city of Deir Ezzour, the activist group said.

The observatory cited an overall death toll since protests began in March of 1,834 civilians and 416 security and army personnel.

The LCC said at least 2,545 people have died. The vast majority were civilians, and 391 were security personnel, the LCC said.

The strong security reaction to demonstrators calling for political changes has spurred outrage among world powers, like the United States, and among Syria's neighbors, such as Jordan and Turkey.

CNN cannot independently verify opposition or government claims because Syria has restricted international journalists from reporting inside the country.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the "imperialist aggression" in Syria and Libya and vowed to redouble efforts to restore peace there, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The website posting came a day after Chavez spoke by telephone with his Iranian counterpart and came the same day that gunfire and shelling rang out across Syria's coastal city of Latakia Tuesday amid reports of Palestinian refugees fleeing a restive and impoverished enclave there.

CNN's Amir Ahmed, Arwa Damon, Nada Husseini and Yesim Comert contributed to this report.

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