Pressure was mounting on the United Nations yesterday to take a decisive stance against the Syrian regime as President Bashar al-Assad's forces bombed the city of Hama for a second consecutive day in an attempt to crush a four-month-old popular uprising.
The UN Security Council was holding closed-door session on Syria last night, after government troops killed as many as 100 civilians in Hama on Sunday, in a chilling reminder of the massacre by the previous regime in the city nearly 30 years ago.
The Security Council meeting, convened at Germany's request, was expected to revive a draft resolution condemning the Assad regime, despite opposition from several member states, notably Russia, China and Brazil. Critics fear such a move would be the first step towards military intervention, as was the case with Libya earlier this year.
The European Union, which extended sanctions against the Syrian regime yesterday, called on the UN ahead of the meeting to take a "clear stand" in response to the worsening violence that left 150 dead across the country on Sunday, a call echoed by Syrian activists who fear a widespread crackdown.
The bombardment of Hama drew parallels to the Hama massacre by Mr Assad's late father, Hafez, in 1982, when his forces brutally quelled an armed Islamist uprising, killing at least 10,000.
In an indication that he would be no more merciful than his father, a defiant Mr Assad praised his troops for foiling "warmongers and blood merchants" and said this uprising "will not fare any better than previous ones".
The assault on Hama, a city of 800,000 that has emerged as a symbol of resistance in Syria, resumed at dawn yesterday. Activists accused the regime of trying to crush protests in one of the main centres of dissent ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, which began yesterday, fearing perhaps that protesters would use daily prayers to organise and rally.
Sunday's violence prompted a new wave of international outrage – including opprobrium from Russia, a close ally of Syria that has been largely uncritical – but the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told the BBC yesterday that there was "not a remote possibility" of achieving a UN mandate for military intervention.Reuse content