Syrian army tanks on Friday stormed the city of Hama, a hub for opposition protests against the government, killing at least 44 people, among them women and children, activists said.

"Tanks are attacking the city from four directions. They are firing their heavy machine guns randomly," activist Abu Omar told DPA by phone over the sound of gunfire in the background.

Tank shells were falling at the rate of six a minute in and around northern Hama, said the activist, who is based in the suburb of Reef Hama and goes by a pseudonym.

According to Abu Omer, scores of people were wounded, while bodies were lying uncollected in the streets, and blood for transfusions was in short supply in most hospitals across the city. Electricity and water supplies to the city’s main neighborhoods had been cut, a tactic used regularly by the military when storming towns to crush protests, he added, predicting that the death toll would rise.

The regime of President Bashar Assad is trying to suppress the uprising against his 11-year rule that broke out in March and was inspired by revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

In the northern province of Idlib, a booby-trapped car exploded near an army checkpoint killing at least one soldier and wounding others, activists said.

Activists in other restive areas in Homs, Daraa and Idlib, said mass rallies in support of the people of Hama were taking place.

In the city of Aleppo, which experienced relative calm since the protests against al-Assad started, activists reported that three people were killed when security forces fired at protesters in the Marhej neighborhood.

More than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising erupted in mid-March, according to the United Nations.