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Latakia offensive continues, Turkey sharpens rhetoric

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The Syrian military offensive on the port city of Latakia entered its fourth day on Tuesday (August 16th) with machine-gun fire heard throughout the city, activists said.

Intense fire was heard for three hours, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in a statement. While activists have documented the use of gunboats in the attack on the coastal city, the official SANA agency denied the use of any naval forces.

Latakia, home to 600,000 people, is "under the control" of the military following "a complicated operation" that resulted in the arrests of dozens of armed men, the pro-government Al-Watan daily reported on Tuesday.

Activists counter that many of those arrested were city residents ordered by the military to evacuate the besieged city. When citizens began fleeing, Syrian troops arrested many of them and subsequently "transported them on buses to the sports city stadium and there they're being held captured, stripped of their IDs and mobile phones," Al-Jazeera reported.

Also Tuesday an estimated 5,000 Palestinian refugees were forced to flee their camp in the Ramel district of Latakia. The situation is "extremely worrysome," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told the BBC.

Turkey continued to criticise Syria's use of force against its citizens. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu on Monday called for a halt to the offensive, BBC News reported.

"This is our final word to the Syrian authorities," Davutoglu said. "Our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally." Jordan also urged the Syrian leadership to end the violence "immediately" and "listen to reason," the official Petra agency reported.

The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, a grassroots network of activists, said six Syrians were killed on Monday in Latakia. The number of deaths reached 34 after four days of conflict.

President Bashar al-Assad has continually blamed armed groups backed by unidentified external enemies as leading the effort to destabilize Syria.