International pressure mounts over Syria violence

The international community increased the pressure on the Syrian regime last night as Italy recalled its ambassador from Damascus and Russia dropped its opposition to a UN Security Council resolution condemning its Middle Eastern ally.

The developments came as the Syrian security services continued their operation in the city of Hama, where human rights groups say scores of civilians have been killed by gunfire and shelling in the past few days.

Across Syria more than 100 have died since the weekend. Hama has become a focal point of the uprising, but yesterday many protesters stayed at home as the army continued to fire shells into the city.

In response to the violence, which Barack Obama described as "horrifying" and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, branded "senseless", Italy became the first European Union country to withdraw its envoy. It urged other EU nations to follow suit in order to end what it called the "horrible repression" taking place in Hama and across Syria.

In another significant shift, Russia, which has close ties to the government in Damascus, said it would not obstruct any moves to pass a Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime provided no sanctions were involved. Russia and China have so far responded icily to calls for a resolution, effectively stonewalling attempts to reprimand President Bashar al-Assad.

Human rights groups say Syrian troops and security force personnel have killed more than 1,700 civilians since demonstrations against the government broke out in March. Yesterday the UN's top human rights official pressed Damascus to allow full humanitarian access to its employees.

"The government has been trying to keep the world blind about the alarming situation in the country," said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"The world is watching and the international community is gravely concerned."

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