Syrian tanks and security forces swooped down hard Thursday on the restive city of Daraa, witnesses said.
Helicopters hovered overhead as security forces fanned out across the besieged city, breaking into homes and making arrests. Streets were littered with dead bodies and dwellings are bereft of water and electricity.
A southern city that sits near the Jordanian border, Daraa is where the anti-government protests began and took hold last month. Now it is a test for police and soldiers attempting to quell tenacious protests and a government trying to cope with angry unrest.
Human Rights Watch said army troops and other security forces have killed more than 300 protesters since March 16. Other sources are saying even more people have been slain, and the government reports security personnel have also been killed.
Many of the deaths have occurred in and around Daraa, where heavy firing could be heard Thursday and smoke was seen rising from homes, mosques and schools.
Hundreds of snipers were stationed on the roofs of several buildings and security forces are shelling the city with mortars and anti-aircraft weapons, an eyewitness said.
One witness said dozens of tanks rumbled across a bridge and fired shells, as people hurled rocks at the tanks and tried to stop them from moving into the old part of the city. Another witness said security forces making mass arrests detained a large number of young men.
A resident said injured people are in danger of dying because people are too scared to leave the shelter of their homes with the city under siege by security forces.
Residents have not had electricity, children's milk or medicine for the last four days, said the witness, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
CNN was not able to independently confirm the accounts.
The Syrian unrest began in Daraa in March after teens were arrested for scribbling anti-government graffiti. People protested the arrests, security forces greeted the demonstrators harshly, and that emboldened more rallies.
Protests spread to other parts of Daraa and other regions of Syria, and the same dynamic played out there despite promises and gestures of reform by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
There's been an outcry in many international quarters due to the use of force against the peaceful gatherings. Human Rights Watch Wednesday urged Arab countries to "join international efforts to establish an independent international inquiry" into the issue.
"In recent days President Bashar al-Assad's government cut off access and communications with several cities, sending in tanks and troops in an effort to crush widespread public dissent," the group said.
The U.N. Security Council debated Syria on Wednesday but failed to agree on a response to the crisis.
The situation has even made its way into the planning for Friday's royal wedding in Britain of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
The entire Syrian diplomatic corps was invited to the event as a matter of protocol, but the British Foreign Office said Thursday that Syria's ambassador to the United Kingdom is now not welcome "in the light of this week's attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces, which we have condemned."