After a bloody day of anti-government protests Friday in which say at least 62 people were reported killed, eyewitnesses said Saturday that Syrian tanks and helicopters had entered the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising began six weeks ago. Witnesses reported heavy gunfire and shelling in the city near the border with Jordan.
The dead in Daraa appeared to go unburied as residents stayed indoors, afraid of what witnesses said were at least two dozen military vehicles, including tanks and helicopters, that had entered the city.
It has become increasingly difficult to reach residents in the sealed off town since Monday when the government of President Bashar al-Assad first sent the military in to crush the protests. But Khaled El Ekhetyar, a Syrian activist based in Beirut, was able to contact some residents in Daraa Saturday.
He tells VOA they said the town is under heavy shelling. El Ekhetyar said residents told him that the Syrian army is also targeting refrigerator trucks which are being used as makeshift morgues.
"They said that the army actually are targeting those [trucks] just to erase any evidence of the crime. Because if they get rid of the bodies nobody would know that anybody was killed," he said.
He added that witnesses say there are also serious shortages of basic necessities and services. "The humanitarian situation is really miserable. They lack flour, water, medications, gas, fuel, even bread. Everything," said Ekhetyar.
On Friday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets nationwide, including in the capital Damascus, shouting anti-government slogans. In several places, the government used violent means to disperse them leading to numerous casualties.
Syrian authorities blame armed gangs and infiltrators supplied with weapons from Lebanon and Iraq for inciting the protests. The Assad regime claims its military crackdown is intended to protect citizens.
But human rights groups say more than 500 demonstrators have been killed since the uprising began on March 15 and the U.N. Human Rights Council has ordered an investigation into the violence.