Syrian troops killed at least 45 civilians in a tank assault to occupy the center of the besieged city of Hama, an activist said on Thursday, seeking to crush an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
Thousands of civilians were fleeing the city, a bastion of protest against 41 years of Assad family rule surrounded by a ring of steel of troops with tanks and heavy weapons.
Electricity and communications have been cut off and as many as 130 people have been killed in a four-day military assault since Assad, from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, sent troops into the city on Sunday, residents and activists say.
Last week, tanks also moved into the eastern provincial capital of Deir al-Zor and the town of Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq’s Sunni heartland. Both towns have witnessed large pro-democracy protests.
“The security apparatus thinks it can wrap this uprising up by relying on the security option and killing as many Syrians as it thinks it will take,” a diplomat in Damascus said.
“Tanks are firing their guns at residential buildings in Hama and Deir al-Zor after the two cities were left for weeks to protest peacefully. This is the first time the regime is using tanks with such targeted ferocity,” the diplomat said.
In a sign that the assault on Hama and other Syrian cities may be galvanizing the international community against Assad, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose country had resisted U.N. condemnation of Syria, said Assad risked a sad fate if he failed to reconcile with his opponents.