At least 95 civilians have been killed after army tanks stormed Hama at dawn on Sunday, according to reports. The city is a stronghold of anti-government resistance in Syria.
The army has been besieging the city, which has seen some of the biggest demonstrations against President Assad, for nearly a month.
One doctor told the Reuters news agency: “Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machine guns randomly and overrunning makeshift roadblocks erected by the inhabitants.”
Another resident said bodies were lying uncollected in the streets, and predicted the death toll would rise.
Tank shells were falling at the rate of four a minute in the north of the city, according to residents, and water and electricity supplies to the main neighbourhoods have been cut off.
The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said he was “appalled” by the reports from Hama. “Such action against civilians who have been protesting peacefully in large numbers in the city for a number of weeks has no justification,” he said.
“President Bashar is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis in his country. He should stop this assault on his own people now.”
Channel 4 News reported on 8 July that tanks had been deployed around the outskirts of Hama following protests involving an estimated 500,000 people the previous weekend.
The previous day, 7 July, the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, travelled to Hama in a gesture of solidarity with protesters there.
The activist group Avaaz said in a report last week that 1,634 people had been killed by security forces since the crackdown began. 2,918 had disappeared, and another 26,000 had been arrested – many of whom were beaten and tortured.
The Syrian leadership blames “armed terrorist groups” for most of the killings during the uprising in the country, saying that more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have been killed.
Hama, which is situated 100 miles north of the Syrian capital, Damascus, has a tradition of anti-government resistance.
In 1982 the city was the scene of a massacre when President Assad’s father, the late president Hafez al-Assad, sent in troops to crush an Islamist-led uprising. An estimated 30,000 people were killed.
President Basahr al-Assad is trying to end an uprising against his 11-year rule that broke out in March, inspired by the “Arab spring” revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
The above footage is amateur video released by the Shams News Network, a loosely organised anti-Assad group based in and out of Syria.
Shams posts video and still images of anti-government protests on the internet. It claims to have no connection with Syrian opposition parties or any other states.
It is not possible to verify the content, date, location or authenticity of this material, but it purports to show incidents connected to the storming by Syrian tanks of the city of Hama on 31 July 2011.