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Syrian gunboats join offensive on activists

Syria used gunboats for the first time Sunday to crush the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime, hammering parts of the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia after thousands marched there over the weekend to demand the president's ouster. At least 25 people were killed, according to activists.

The coordinated attacks by gunboats and ground troops were the latest wave of a brutal offensive against anti-government protests launched at the beginning of the month. The assault showed Assad has no intention of scaling back the campaign even though it has brought international outrage and new U.S. and European sanctions.

"We are being targeted from the ground and the sea," said a frightened resident of the al-Ramel district of Latakia, the hardest-hit neighborhood. "The shooting is intense. We cannot go out. They are raiding and breaking into people's homes," he added, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

As the gunships blasted waterfront districts, ground troops backed by tanks and security forces stormed several neighborhoods, including al-Ramel, sending terrified women and children fleeing, some on foot, to safer areas.

The assault on Latakia began Saturday, when tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into al-Ramel district amid intense gunfire.

At least 25 people were killed in the city Sunday, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. One of the dead was a 2-year-old girl who was in a car with her father when security forces at a checkpoint opened fire, he said. An activist network gave the same death toll and said it included three children.

The United States stepped up calls for a global trade embargo on oil and gas from Syria, warning even some of America's closest allies that they must cut links with a government that uses violence to repress protesters.

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