BEIRUT -- A Syrian city that was bombed into submission three decades ago after a crushed uprising became a new center for protest and violence Friday, as activists said troops opened fire on a crowd of thousands and killed at least 34. Still, people nationwide poured into the streets in unprecedented numbers, defying the crackdown and a government chokehold on the Internet.
One of the largest protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad was in Hama, where Assad's father killed thousands in 1982 and emerged to rule uncontested.
"It is a real massacre," said a witness who took part in Friday's protests. "We ran up to people's homes and hid there until the gunfire died down."
Friday's protests appeared to be the biggest since the uprising began in mid-March, with people gathering in ever larger numbers across the country, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The movement has been loosely organized on Facebook pages and increasingly inspired by footage of the crackdown on video sharing sites, but Friday's Internet videos appeared not to deter participants.
In Hama, the witness and activists said at least 100,000 people took part in the protest, making it one of the largest in the city in the uprising. Thirty-four people were killed, said Abdul-Rahman.
Rights groups say more than 1,100 people have been killed nationwide since mid-March.
"Today's protests are a reaction to the so-called overtures by the regime which has lost all credibility," said Najib al-Ghadban, a U.S.-based Syrian academic and political activist.
The Hama demonstration was especially significant, he said, calling it "a qualitative leap that will encourage others to do the same." He said most of the protesters were born after the 1982 massacre and do not harbor the same fear as their elders. "They heard about it, which is positive because it makes them more bent on keeping their protest movement peaceful. They don't want a repetition of the massacres."