Syrian forces rounded up dozens of people in Hama on Wednesday after shooting dead up to 22 people, activists said, and Amnesty International said Syria may have committed crimes against humanity in an earlier crackdown.
Tanks were still stationed outside Hama, which has seen some of the biggest protests against President Bashar al-Assad and was the site of a bloody crackdown against Islamist insurgents nearly 30 years ago.
But some of the tanks had been redeployed away from the city and a resident said security forces were now concentrated mainly around the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party, the police headquarters and a state security compound.
Ammar Qurabi, Cairo-based head of the Syrian National Human Rights Organisation, said the death toll from Tuesday, when gunmen loyal to Assad swept through the city, had risen to 22.
He said hundreds of people had been arrested.
State news agency SANA said one policeman was killed in a clash with armed groups who opened fire on security forces and threw petrol and nail bombs at them. It made no mention of civilian deaths but said some “armed men” were injured.
Hama was emptied of security forces for nearly a month after at least 60 protesters were shot dead on June 3, but the security vacuum emboldened demonstrators and on Friday activists said at least 150,000 people rallied to demand Assad's downfall.
The next day Assad sacked the provincial governor and sent tanks and troops to surround the city, signalling a military assault similar to those carried out in other protest centres.