BEIRUT: Syrian security forces opened fire yesterday in restive central city of Hama, injuring an Olympic boxing champion and 20 others as President Bashar Assad's regime swept through several cities and towns to crush a pro-democracy uprising, activists said.
Nasser Al Shami, who won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, was in stable condition after being hit by shotgun pellets in Hama, said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights' London-based director Rami Abdul Rahman. He said he spoke to the doctor who treated the athlete.
The shooting happened as troops and tanks sealed off Hama and blocked the roads to retake it one month after forces withdrew. Hama, which has a history of militancy against the Assad regime, was targeted in a crackdown in 1982. Assad's late father and predecessor Hafez Assad ordered troops to crush a rebellion by Sunni fundamentalists, killing between 10,000 and 25,000 people, rights groups say.
Also yesterday, forces opened fire on people fleeing to Turkey, wounding a woman and her young son. The Local Co-ordination Committee, which tracks the protests, said the shots were fired in Idlib province bordering Turkey. About 60 people made it across, but authorities detained several others, it added.
Thousands have already taken shelter in refugee camps in Turkey, a source of deep embarrassment to Damascus.
In the Damascus suburb of Dumair in the south, armoured personnel carriers rolled in after all telecommunications were cut, an activist said, adding soldiers and plainclothes policemen were randomly detaining all men from teenagers to those in their 60s.