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Syrian tanks, gunmen kill at least 5 people in sweep of protesters

Syrian tanks, security agents and pro-regime gunmen fanned out into the streets of several towns to root out protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad in a sweep Saturday that killed at least five people.

The heaviest assault was in the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, where a day earlier thousands had turned out in protests. At least 20 tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into the city's el-Ramel neighborhood amid intense gunfire that sent many residents fleeing the area, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Later in the day, shooting and explosions were heard in another neighborhood, Slaibeh, according to the Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group that documents protests in Syria.

Two people were killed in the shooting, the LCC and the observatory reported. Amateur videos posted on the Internet by activists showed armored personnel carriers moving down what was said to be the streets of Latakia.

Also on Saturday, scores of security agents and pro-government gunmen, known as Shabiha, entered the town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon and several nearby villages, arresting scores of residents, Abdul-Rahman said. The LCC said one person was killed in the shooting.

The LCC and observatory said one person was also killed in security raids in Daraya, a suburb of the capital Damascus. One person was also killed in the central city of Hama, according to LCC.

The army also conducted an operation in the towns of Hawla and Taldaw, in the central Homs province, and deployed tanks in the area, activists said. They also reported 10 people wounded by gunfire during sweeps in the northwestern town of Sarmin.

Both the al-Ramel section of Latakia and Qusair have seen large protests against Assad's regime since demonstrations broke out around the country in mid-March. The government's crackdown intensified over the past weeks, with troops storming several towns and cities.

A Latakia resident confirmed the military's presence in al-Ramel, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Abdul-Rahman said many residents, mostly women and children, were fleeing the neighborhood to safer areas.

The Associated Press could not verify the activists' accounts or the contents of videos. Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to get independent confirmation of the events on the ground.

Also Saturday, President Obama reached out to the leaders of Britain and Saudi Arabia to build consensus for an end to Syria's violent crackdown.

The White House said Obama spoke separately to British Prime Minister David Cameron and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, both of whom agreed with Obama that Assad's government must end its attacks on civilians.

The White House said Obama and Cameron agreed to closely monitor the Syrian government's actions and consult on further steps in the coming days. The Saudi king also agreed to consult with Obama closely, the White House said.

Anti-government protests in Syria have grown dramatically over the past five months, driven in part by anger over the government's bloody crackdown in which rights groups say at least 1,700 civilians have been killed.

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