Syrian human rights activists say hundreds of people are fleeing the central city of Hama for fear of a military crackdown by security forces.
A Syrian activist monitoring developments in Hama told VOA in a telephone interview that dozens of families left the city Thursday. She said military forces have surrounded the city with tanks, and security patrols have detained more than 100 civilians inside Hama.
She confirmed reports from rights groups that at least 25 people have been killed and more than 40 wounded in Hama in recent days. Troops had pushed through improvised barriers and roadblocks set up by Hama residents after massive anti-government protests.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has traveled to Hama, where he met with a dozen people. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the visit was designed to show solidarity with protesters. When pressed by reporters, she did not offer details of the visit.
Earlier, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to stop the killings in its crackdown on dissent. In his comments Thursday, he also asked the Syrian leadership to grant access in the country to U.N. aid workers and a fact-finding mission.
Rights groups say Syrian security forces have killed at least 1,400 civilians since mid-March while trying to suppress the anti-government uprising. The Syrian government says terrorists and Islamist militants have killed hundreds of security personnel during the same period.
As the current crackdown widens, Amnesty International says Syrian forces may have committed crimes against humanity during an operation last month near the Lebanese border.
The London-based rights group Wednesday accused Syria of rounding up scores of male residents in the town of Talkalakh and torturing most of them. It quotes witnesses who say at least nine people died in custody.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.