The Syrian army has seized control of the Omari mosque in the southern city of Deraa, the focal point of anti-government protests that have roiled the country for the past six weeks.
According to witness accounts, state soldiers are stationed on the roof of the mosque, after launching an assault that reportedly killed at least six people.
The shelling has stopped. There are snipers on the roof of the mosque, one Deraa resident told Reuters.
Another resident, Abu Ahmed, said: It looks like [the security forces] want to finish their campaign today. From the new tank deployments, it looks as though they are intensifying their operations.
On Friday, more than three dozen protesters died in unrest across Syria – many of them in Deraa.
They are shooting at houses, both the tanks and the soldiers. The most intense fire is at the Omari mosque, a resident told Al Jazeera.
The bullets are flying straight over my head as we are talking: It's so close. The humanitarian situation is very bad: There's no food, no medicine, no electricity. We are collecting rain water to drink.”
State officials again blamed the violence on armed terrorists.”
According to other reports, a humanitarian crisis is brewing in Deraa, where electricity, food, water and communications have been cut off. Ghoulishly, dead bodies remain unburied on the streets as it has become too dangerous for mourners to retrieve them. Large public funerals have also been banned by the authorities.
Another witness told Al Jazeera by phone: We are totally besieged. It is a tragedy. Many houses are leveled by shelling from the army. For the past six days we haven’t seen an ambulance. We are keeping the bodies of the dead in refrigerator trucks, but many bodies are still lying in the streets. Many of the bodies are bloated and are reeking.
Nonetheless, protesters are likely to continue their demonstrations against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Thus far, more than 500 protesters have been killed in the unrest and many hundreds more have been arrested.
There have also been unconfirmed reports that some soldiers have mutinied and defied orders to shoot at protesters.
Separately, Assad is facing more political defections. On Saturday, 138 members of the ruling Baath Party in the southern Hawran region (where Deraa is located) resigned to protest the brutal crackdown. That followed the resignation last week of 200 other Baath Party members in Deraa governorate.
On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the violence perpetrated by the Syrian government in a resolution.
The Syrian government has failed to heed repeated calls by the international community for restraint, said British foreign secretary William Hague.
It is vital to respond with reform not repression.