Syrian Tanks, Troops Storm Hama

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DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Tanks, armored vehicles and snipers seized the central square of the northern Syrian city of Hama, where witnesses and activists reported casualties Wednesday.

Witnesses reported near-constant gunfire Wednesday and many casualties, The New York Times reported.

Hama has been a hub for the months-long popular uprising against President Bashar Assad and his ruthless regime.

“The army is now stationed in Assi Square,” a post on the Syrian Revolution Facebook page read. “The heroic youths of Hama are confronting them and banning them from entering neighborhoods.”

Independent verification of reports about casualties were difficult because Assad has barred foreign journalists.

Assad seized Hama despite growing world denunciations of his brutal suppression of a democracy movement. The United Nations and Western nations — led by the United States and European Union — have stepped up their criticism of Assad and even Syria’s allies have voiced anger over the violent and deadly crackdown.

Since Sunday, at least 140 people have been killed, mainly in Hama, as the Syrian government tries to quell dissent. Assad has pledged reforms but has blamed the violence on “armed gangs” propped up by unnamed foreign governments.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Assad lost “all sense of humanity.”

Online posts and social networking sites said water, electricity and communication lines were cut in Hama and surrounding communities, the Times said.

Omar Habbal, an activist with the opposition group Local Coordination Committees, said three tanks were positioned in Assi Square and snipers were posted on rooftops.

“They entered the city from all sides,” Habbal told the Times. “We don’t know where the fire is coming from, but despite that, people in their neighborhoods are still shouting anti-regime slogans.”

The city also is running out of food and supplies, a resident told CNN.

“In a couple days, this will be a major humanitarian issue,” the resident said.

The Security Council, despite Ban’s condemnation of Assad, has been unable to reach agreement on a response to Assad’s violent crackdown on the months-long uprising. It is divided over whether its response should be a formal resolution or a weaker statement, the BBC reported.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said the latest draft offered by some members could harm peace efforts. Moscow, he said, preferred using diplomatic channels to help resolve the crisis.

“It is no secret that our Western colleagues believe that Damascus and the Syrian government are to blame for everything …,” he said on Russian TV. “There are a number of other members of the Security Council, Russia among them, who see the situation as more complicated.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed sympathy for all victims of the Assad regime’s abuse during a meeting Tuesday with a group of U.S.-based Syrian activists.

“In our discussion, the activists reaffirmed the internal opposition’s vision of a transition plan for a Syria that will be representative, inclusive and pluralistic; a new, united Syria with a government subject to the rule of law and fully respectful of the equality of all Syrians, irrespective of sect, ethnicity or gender,” Clinton said in a statement.

The United States will support Syrians “in their efforts to begin a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy in Syria and to have their aspirations realized,” Clinton said. “We have nothing invested in the continuation of a regime that must kill, imprison and torture its own citizens to maintain power.”

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