Syrian Tanks Push into Hama as UN Nears Condemnation Statement

Posted August 3rd, 2011 at 2:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian tanks pushed into the city of Hama on Wednesday as part of the government's widening crackdown on dissent. The offensive came as the United Nations moved closer to an agreement on a statement condemning violence in the country.

Activists and witnesses say loud explosions rocked the city as tanks moved into a central square that has been a rallying point for protesters demanding President Bashar al-Assad's resignation.

They say more than 130 people have been killed across Syria since Sunday, when the government stepped up its offensive. Activists say most of the deaths occurred in Hama.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council is finalizing a draft presidential statement that could be adopted on Wednesday. A presidential statement requires unanimous consent of all 15 Security Council members, but is considered not as forceful as a full resolution.

The measure expresses “grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria.” A draft of the measure had included language condemning what it called “widespread violations of human rights,” but British envoy Mark Lyall Grant says that language was removed at the request of a member state.

Meanwhile, a Syrian state-run media report says the country's People's Assembly will hold a session on Sunday to discuss “citizens' interests” and “issues related to the homeland.”

In Washington Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Syrian political activists in her first attempt to reach out to the expatriate opposition since the start of anti-government protests.

She encouraged the activists to work with those in Syria, and said the United States will continue to support the Syrian people. Clinton also said the U.S. is working on additional sanctions against Damascus.

Syrian activists also urged U.S. President Barack Obama to call for Mr. Assad to step down. Mr. Obama said last month that Mr. Assad was “losing legitimacy in the eyes of his people” and had missed multiple opportunities to present genuine reforms.

Also Tuesday, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights warned Syria that “the world is watching” developments there. Navi Pillay bluntly criticized what she called Mr. Assad's efforts to shield the brutality of the crackdown by banning most foreign news coverage and preventing a U.N. fact-finding mission from visiting.

Rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 1,700 civilians since the uprising began in March. The government has blamed much of the violence on what it says are terrorists and militants who have killed nearly 400 security personnel.