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Syrian tanks poised to assault city

BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 3 (UPI) -- Syrian tanks and soldiers Sunday surrounded the rebel stronghold of Hama on the orders of President Bashar Assad, observers said.

The 100 tanks apparently were poised for an assault, the Los Angeles Times reported from Beirut, Lebanon.

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The newspaper said protests have erupted in Hama during the last few weeks after a period of relative quiet. The city of 70,000 was the scene of an infamous assault in 1982 when Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, crushed a rebellion by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hama was the site a month ago of a security forces assault on protesters that left 60 dead.

The Times said Assad fired Hama's provincial governor Saturday after rumors he had ordered security forces not to fire on demonstrators.

"Tanks have closed off the main entrances to the (Hama) and phone networks have been cut," one resident told the Times. The resident managed to escape from Hama on Sunday but asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

Syrian authorities have cut phone lines in the past to areas ahead of full-blown assaults, the newspaper said.

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