UN Condemns Syria as Tanks Storm Central Hama

Posted August 3rd, 2011 at 6:55 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.N. Security Council has condemned the Syrian government for attacks on civilians and widespread human rights violations in a widening crackdown on dissent, as President Bashar al-Assad for the first time sent tanks, troops and snipers into the flashpoint city of Hama.

The Council's presidential statement, issued Wednesday after more than three months of delay and silence on Syria's escalating violence, calls for those responsible on “all sides” to be “held accountable.” But it contains no enforceable demands or sanctions and does not seek a referral of Syrian leaders to the International Criminal Court, as opposition groups have demanded.

The U.S. and its allies on the Council had argued for a resolution, which has the force of international law. But Russia and temporary members Brazil, India and South Africa refused to support the stronger measure. Lebanon, Syria's neighbor and close ally, did not block the statement but disassociated itself from the text.

The developments came as Syrian forces pushed into Hama's central square in what activists called the most direct offensive against the city in the country's four-month uprising. Rights groups reported “bodies lying in the streets,” and online posts said water, electricity and communications were cut. Many residents fled to nearby villages or other cities.

The army has surrounded Hama since Sunday when it carried out a predawn attack on the city, which had largely been free of armed troops since June. In the east, some 200 tanks continue to surround Deir el-Zour, another focal point of military bombardment since Sunday.

Activists say more than 130 people have been killed across Syria in the last three days, mostly in Hama.

In Washington, the U.S. hardened its stance against Mr. Assad, saying the United States viewed him as the cause of instability in Syria. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that the Syrian leader has shown himself to be completely “incapable and unwilling” to respond to the grievances of his own people. He said the U.S. is looking at ways to increase the pressure on Mr. Assad.

Some members of the U.S. Congress have called on President Barack Obama to impose sanctions against foreign companies doing business with Syria's energy sector. Newly toughened measures currently ban most U.S. trade with Syria, but enforcement does not extend to foreign companies.

On 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. The group urged the U.S. president to call for Mr. Assad to step down.

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.