The assault, launched at dawn Wednesday, capped a three-day offensive against the city that claimed at least 100 lives. Videos posted on YouTube showed tanks rumbling through the streets amid explosions and gunfire, but it was difficult to establish exactly what was happening because of land-line and cellphone communications were cut, as were electricity and the water supply.
In other parts of Syria, security forces killed at least seven protesters overnight when they went out to demonstrate after nighttime prayers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Associated Press quoted activists as saying Thursday.
On a day when the appearance of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in a cage in a Cairo courtroom illustrated the perils that await dictators who cave, the push into Hama Wednesday sent a powerful signal that Assad’s regime appears determined to stop at nothing to ensure its survival. With the U.N. Security Council meeting to review a presidential statement condemning Syria, the regime also seemed undeterred by world opinion.
An activist contacted by satellite telephone as he hid in his home with his wife and two children described a city gripped by fear — and bracing for a massacre on the scale of one perpetrated in the same city by Assad’s father, Hafez, in 1982, in which at least 10,000 people were killed.
“It’s a massacre. It’s 1982 all over again,” said Saleh Hamawi, his voice quaking as the sound of explosions echoed down the line. “This is a challenge to the international community, which is doing nothing.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney called the brutality “grotesque” and reiterated that the Obama administration is “looking at ways to increase the pressure” on the Syrian government.
Hours after the tanks had reached Assi Square, where anti-government demonstrations had drawn hundreds of thousands in recent weeks, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the violence and expressing “profound regret” at the deaths of hundreds of people since the uprising began in March.
“The only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive Syrian-led political process, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population,” the statement said.
It also called on “all sides to exert restraint and to refrain from reprisals, including against state institutions.” The phrase represented a concession to Syria allies Russia and China, which support assertions by the Assad government that the protest movement is armed and equally culpable for the violence.