Syrian tanks storm eastern city, defying UN appeal

Assault on Deir al-Zor tears down protective barricades set up by residents, kills twenty; Ban Ki-moon: stop use of force immediately.

Syrian tank in Hama 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Syrian tank in Hama 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
AMMAN - Syrian troops killed 20 people in a tank assault on the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Sunday, an activist group said, despite a direct UN appeal to Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop using military force against civilians.
The assault on Deir al-Zor, capital of a restive oil-producing province, began exactly a week after Assad sent the army to seize control of the city of Hama, a focal point of nearly five months of protest against his autocratic rule.
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The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union said most casualties in Sunday's attack on Deir al-Zor were in al-Joura district in the west of the city.
A resident told Reuters: "Early this morning columns of army tanks and bulldozers, under cover of heavy rounds of gunfire, stormed into the western and northern entrances of the city and dismantled barricades set up by residents…
Syria has barred most independent media since the start of the uprising against Assad, making it hard to verify accounts from residents, activists and authorities.
The military assault on Deir al-Zor, about 400 km (250 miles) north-east of Damascus, was launched a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Assad he was alarmed by the escalating violence and demanded he rein in the army.
"In a phone conversation with President Assad...the Secretary-General expressed his strong concern and that of the international community at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days," the UN press office said.
Ban "urged the president to stop the use of military force against civilians immediately", it added.
Residents of Deir al-Zor, situated on the Euphrates river in a province bordering Iraq's Sunni heartland, had been bracing for an assault on their city.
A video posted on the Internet last week showed a tribal meeting discussing preparations for armed resistance to any military move against them.