Syrian tanks occupied the main Orontes Square in central Hama after heavy shelling of the city yesterday, residents said.
“All communications have been cut off. The regime is using the media focus on the Hosni Mubarak trial to finish off Hama,” one of the residents told Reuters by satellite phone from the city, adding that shelling concentrated on al-Hader district, large parts of which were razed during a 1982 military assault on Hama that killed thousands.
He said that tanks were seen thrusting to the center from the south, accompanied by an array of ultraloyalist units, including militiamen known as shabbiha, paratroopers and special forces.
The square has been the venue of some of the largest demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule during a five-month street uprising for political freedoms.
Syrian troops have tightened their siege on Hama since Sunday, sending residents fleeing for their lives. The death toll since Sunday has reached about 100, but the exact figure was difficult to verify, according to activists.
The operation has drawn a fresh wave of international condemnation against a regime defying the growing calls to end its crackdown on anti-government protesters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met on Tuesday with US-based Syrian democracy activists as US President Barack Obama’s administration weighed new sanctions on Syria. The activists urged Obama to call on Assad to quit power.
Italy on Tuesday recalled its ambassador to Syria “in the face of the horrible repression against the civil population” by the government.
It was the first EU country to pull its ambassador, and the measure came a day after the EU tightened sanctions on Syria.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council was scheduled to meet again yesterday as it struggles over how to respond to the Syria crisis Russia warns is veering toward civil war.
Divisions remained among the 15 nations on the wording of any condemnation of Assad’s crackdown on protests and whether it should be a formal resolution or a less weighty statement.
European nations, which agreed to change their draft resolution on Syria following pressure from opponents, said progress had been made.
However, Russia said there was still not the “required balance” in the new version.
Tuesday’s second day of arduous talks ended with each country sending the draft text back to their national governments ahead of a new round of negotiations yesterday
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the new text “detrimental” to efforts “to do everything possible to pull away from the brink of civil war where Syria is finding itself, unfortunately and tragically.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon vented his growing anger at Assad’s refusal to acknowledge international criticism, particularly after the weekend military offensive in Hama.
Highlighting his many statements on the crisis and attempts to speak to the Syrian leader, Ban told reporters Assad “must be aware that under international humanitarian law, this is accountable. I believe that he lost all sense of humanity.”