AMMAN - Syrian government forces hammered Deir al-Zor with artillery and mortar fire on Sunday while helicopters fired rockets into residential districts in an effort to prevent rebels from consolidating control over the major eastern city, witnesses said.

One witness, a former artillery officer, told Reuters by telephone that he counted around 200 shells hitting the Ordi and Old Airport districts of the city, 430 km (270 miles) northeast of the capital Damascus.

It was the heaviest reported bombardment since the army stormed Deir al-Zor a year ago to crush street protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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