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Syria army kills 80 in Hama: Activists

Assad’s forces began their assault on the city at dawn after besieging it for nearly a month.

Written by Reuters | Amman | August 1, 2011 2:11:48 am

Syrians tanks firing shells and machineguns stormed the city of Hama on Sunday,killing at least 80 civilians in a move to crush demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule,rights activists and residents said.

Assad’s forces began their assault on the city,scene of a 1982 massacre,at dawn after besieging it for nearly a month. The state news agency said the military entered Hama to purge armed groups shooting intensively to terrorise citizens.

A US embassy official dismissed the official account,saying Syrian authorities had begun a war against their own people by attacking Hama. Britain and France,which had led European overtures toward Assad,also condemned the assault.

“It is desperate. The authorities think that somehow they can prolong their existence by engaging in full armed warfare on their own citizens,” US Press Attache J J Harder told Reuters by telephone from Damascus. He described the official Syrian description of the violence as nonsense.

The Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah said the civilian death toll in Hama had risen to 80. The independent group cited medical officials and witnesses in its report. Syrian authorities have expelled most independent journalists since the unrest began in March,making it difficult to verify reports of violence and casualties.

Hama has particular significance for the anti-Assad movement since Assad’s father,the late President Hafez al-Assad,sent in troops to smash an Islamist-led uprising there in 1982,razing entire neighbourhoods and killing up to 30,000 people in the bloodiest episode of Syria’s modern history.

The current unrest has pitted primarily demonstrators from the Sunni Muslim majority against Assad’s minority Alawite sect,which dominates the security services and ultra-loyalist army divisions commanded by Assad’s feared brother Maher. Some critics said Assad’s assault on Hama suggested an attempt to stamp out unrest before Ramadan,the Muslim fasting month where people refrain from food and drink between dawn and dusk,begins on Monday.

“Assad is trying to resolve the matter before Ramadan when every daily fasting prayer threatens to become another Friday (of post-prayer protests). But he is pouring oil on a burning fire and now the Hama countryside is rising in revolt,” said Yasser Saadeldine,a Syrian Islamist living in exile in Qatar.

US President Barack Obama said he was appalled by Syria’s use of violence against its people and promised to work with others to isolate Assad. “The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime,” Obama said. European Union governments planned to extend sanctions against Assad’s government Monday by slapping asset freezes and travel bans on five more people.

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