Update 2 August
Syrians began the Muslim Ramadan fast in somber mood on Monday after troops stormed Hama, in one of the bloodiest days of a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Rights activists said 80 civilians were killed in Sunday's tank-backed assault on this city where Assad's father crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood revolt 29 years ago by razing neighborhoods and killing at least 10.000 people.Tanks shelled a northeastern district of Hama on Monday, killing at least four civilians, two residents said.
Footage posted on social media showed large parts of the city covered in smoke, and panic-stricken groups around dead or wounded people in the streets as gunfire rang out. Reuters could not independently verify the content of the videos.
Other footage purporting to be from the city of Homs showed crowds chanting: "Hama, we are with you until death, Deir al-Zor, we are with you until death." Residents said at least 11 civilians had been killed in a weekend crackdown in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor.
The Syrian leadership blames "armed terrorist groups" for most killings during the revolt, saying that more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have been killed.In a letter to the military, Assad reiterated that Syria was facing a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife designed to "tear Syria into small statelets that compete to satisfy those who worked to slice them up."
"All of Syria's honorable people are sure that we will emerge stronger from the crisis," Assad said.
"They wanted to wreak sectarian strife that destroys everything. We managed to prevent sectarian strife and examine ourselves to find out the errors and treat them."
President Barack Obama said he was appalled by the Syrian government's "horrifying" violence against its people in Hama and promised to work with others to isolate Assad. "Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward," Obama said in a statement.
Several European countries condemned the Hama assault. Italy and Germany called for a U.N. Security Council meeting, but Britain ruled out any foreign military intervention.The council was expected to hold closed-door consultations on Monday, a spokesman for Germany's U.N. mission said.
"We do want to see additional sanctions," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC. "We want to see stronger international pressure all round. Of course, to be effective, that can't just be pressure from Western nations, that includes from Arab nations, it includes from Turkey."
Seeking military action against Syria, even with U.N. authority, was "not a remote possibility," he said.
Russia and China have previously opposed any condemnation of Syria in the council, where they hold veto powers.
The European Union plans to extend sanctions on Monday by imposing asset freezes and travel bans on five more Syrians. EU sanctions already target Assad and at least two dozen officials, as well as Syrian firms linked to the military.
Turkey, one of Assad's main allies until the uprising, felt "great disappointment and sadness" over Sunday's death toll, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, blaming the use of tanks and heavy weapons for the high number of casualties.
"Such a start to Ramadan for Syrians is not acceptable. We condemn the attack," Davutoglu said. "Our advice to Syrian officials has been the same all along: the promised reforms should be carried out right away."
The Syrian human rights group Sawasiah put the civilian death toll in Hama at 80. Some reports gave higher figures.