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International Community Mulls Steps As Syrian Troops Advance On Hama

Armored military vehicles were deployed in the central city of Hama on August 1.

Armored military vehicles were deployed in the central city of Hama on August 1.

Syrian government troops have reportedly advanced on the central city of Hama to quell antiregime protests, even as the international community took diplomatic steps to prevent the bloodshed from escalating.

The reports of the latest military action came as the United Nations Security Council held a second day of closed-door talks to discuss violence that left 24 Syrian civilians dead on August 1, and well over 100 dead on the eve of Ramadan on July 31, according to local activists.

In New York, the Security Council on August 2 held nearly eight hours of closed-door discussions, but diplomats said no agreement on a draft was reached.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that the 15 Security Council representatives would consult with their governments and return on August 3 for more discussions.

Churkin said that what he called the "required balance" had not yet been achieved on a draft resolution that Moscow could support.

Churkin said Russia wants any Security Council statement to “play a constructive and positive role” and “prevent the further aggravation of the crisis in Syria."

Diplomats said divisions remain among Security Council nations on the wording of any condemnation of President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on protests, and whether it should be a legally-binding resolution or a weaker statement.

Diplomats say there are also questions about how to address attacks targeting Syrian security forces.

On August 2, the European Union added several of Syria's top security officials, including Defense Minister Ali Habib, to a list of government members subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

Widespread Anger

In Rome, the Italian government recalled its ambassador to Syria for consultation, citing Damascus's "horrible repression against the civilian population."

Italy's Foreign Ministry urged all EU countries to recall their envoys from Damascus.

At least 24 people were killed across Syria on August 1, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to one human rights group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 protesters were killed in the central city of Hama alone.

Government troops reportedly used force to disperse protesters, who gathered after Iftar, a fast-breaking evening meal. More than 150 people were taken in for questioning, according to the rights group.

The violence followed an offensive a day before when some 140 people were reportedly killed across Syria, making it one of the deadliest days since antigovernment protests began in the country in mid-March.

Observers expected nightly protests to continue to target Assad's government throughout Ramadan.

The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, has called for an end to the violence.

"We'd like to see the violence stop immediately and President al-Assad take steps to resolve the issues that are clearly being raised internally by the Syrian people and issues which call for substantial change," Mullen told reporters during a visit to neighboring Iraq.

...And Growing Pressure

Mullen pointed out that there were no plans for U.S. military intervention in Syria.

"There is no indication whatsoever that the Americans...would get involved directly with respect to this," Mullen added. "I think politically and diplomatically, we want to bring as much pressure as we possibly can to affect the change that so many countries are calling for."

"President Assad has lost his legitimacy with the Syrian people," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on August 1. "Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner characterized the Syrian regime's use of violence on the eve of Ramadan as a "slaughter."

"We find these violent attempts by the Syrian regime to target civilians on the eve of Ramadan to be despicable and abhorrent," Toner said.

Britain, meanwhile, ruled out military intervention but called for "stronger international pressure all around," including from Arab nations and from Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he was "appalled" by the violence.

"We are deeply appalled and dismayed by the operations in Hama and other Syrian cities," Davutoglu said. "The method and timing of these operations is very wrong. We strongly condemn them."

There are concerns that talks at the UN level could reopen bitter divisions between members of the Security Council, which has so far been unable to agree even on a statement about Assad's crackdown against his political opponents.

Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, and the United States have been pressing for weeks for some kind of condemnation of the violence.

But Russia, China, South Africa, India, and Brazil -- who are all angry about the NATO bombing campaign in Libya -- have refused to support even a statement condemning the Syrian regime.

Russia and China, both permanent members, also have threatened to veto any formal proposals for a resolution against Assad's regime.

compiled from agency reports