An assault by Syrian security forces on a Palestinian refugee camp in the coastal city of Latakia amounts to a crime against humanity, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization said.

"The shelling is taking place using gunships and tanks on houses built from tin, on people who have no place to run to or even a shelter to hide in," Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PLO secretary general, told Reuters. "This is a crime against humanity."


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UNRWA, the United Nations agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, said on Monday that between 5,000 and 10,000 people had fled the al-Raml refugee camp in Latakia.

Residents of Latakia say Syrian security forces have been targeting areas where demonstrators have been protesting against President Bashar Assad's rule.


Syrian tanks opened fire on poor Sunni districts in Latakia on Tuesday, residents said, the fourth day of a military assault on the northern port city aimed at crushing protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"Heavy machine gun fire and explosions were hitting al-Raml al-Filistini (home to Palestinian refugees) and al-Shaab this morning. This subsided and now there is the sound of intermittent tank fire," one of the residents, who lives near the two districts, told Reuters by phone.

The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, a grassroots activists' group, said six people, including Ahmad Soufi, 22, were killed in Latakia on Monday, bringing the civilian death toll there to 34, including a two-year-old girl.

Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, has broadened a military assault against towns and cities where demonstrators have been demanding his removal since the middle of March.

The crackdown coincided with the Aug. 1 start of the Muslim Ramadan fast, when nightly prayers became the occasion for more protests against 41 years of Ba'athist party rule.

Syrian forces have already stormed Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, and several northwestern towns in a province bordering Turkey.

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