At least 45 civilians were killed in a tank assault by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to occupy the center of Hama, an activist said on Thursday, in a sharp escalation of a military campaign aimed at ending an uprising against his rule.
Reacting to intensifying assaults on Syrian cities and towns, the U.N. Security Council overcame deep divisions and condemned Assad’s bloody crackdown on civilian protesters. It was the first substantive action by the United Nations on Syria’s five-month-old uprising for political freedoms.
An activist who managed to leave the besieged city told Reuters that 40 people were killed by heavy machinegun fire and shelling by tanks in al-Hader district north of the Orontes river on Wednesday and early on Thursday.
The activist, who gave his name as Thaer, said five more people from the Fakhri and Assa’ad families, including two children, were killed as they were trying to leave Hama by car on the al-Dhahirya highway.
Syrian authorities have expelled most independent media, making it difficult to verify witness accounts and official statements.
Residents earlier said tanks had advanced into central Hama on Wednesday after heavily shelling the city and occupied the main Orontes Square, the site of some of the largest protests against Assad, who succeeded his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.
Snipers spread onto rooftops and into the nearby citadel. They said shelling concentrated on al-Hader district, large parts of which were razed in 1982 when forces loyal to Hafez al-Assad overran Hama to crush Islamist insurgents, killing many thousands of people.