Activists in Syria say at least 11 people have been shot dead as the army stormed two towns in pursuit of antiregime protesters.
The assaults on Qusair, a western town near the Lebanese border, and on Saraqeb, near the Turkish border, are the latest in President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to crush the five-month-old uprising against his rule.
Activists also said that Abdul Karim Rihawi, a leading Syrian human rights campaigner, was detained by government forces on August 11, the latest in a nationwide campaign of arrests.
Rihawi had been tracking government violations and documenting deaths in the country.
A resident of the flashpoint city of Hama who said his name was "Muhammad" told Reuters that the situation there was getting desperate. Government forces "burned down our shops, our homes, and confiscated our belongings. Hama is burned down and torn to the ground. Go and check the alleys, people are dying of hunger. We have nothing but our God," he said.
The violence is further evidence that Damascus is defying international condemnation, which appears to be gathering steam.
Officials in Washington say U.S. President Barack Obama is preparing for the first time to explicitly call for Assad to step down.
Critics say the call should have already been issued, with Assad sending in tanks and snipers to attack cities considered to be strongholds for the opposition.
But in an interview with CBS News that was released on August 11, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington wanted other nations to add their voices.
Clinton said the United States had been "very clear" in its statements about the fact that Assad has lost legitimacy. She added: "But it's important that it's not just the American voice. And we want to make sure those voices are coming from around the world."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was calling on other countries, including Russia, to cease actions that could be supporting the crackdown.
"Our focus is on working with our European partners [and] our other partners around the world, including in his neighborhood, and particularly encouraging those who are still trading with Syria, particularly in the oil and gas sector -- Russia is still sending arms to Syria -- to stop, so that the pinch will be felt and none of the revenue from this can go to fueling this violence," Nuland said.
The White House said Obama spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone and the two leaders agreed on the need for a "transition to democracy" in Syria.
On August 10, the Obama administration announced a fresh round of unilateral U.S. sanctions against Syria.
The same day, European members of the UN Security Council threatened Syria with tougher action unless the government in Damascus ceases its onslaught.
Western diplomats say UN sanctions would be the next logical step in dealing with Damascus, although veto-wielding Russia and China -- backed by Brazil, India, and South Africa -- have opposed the idea.
Russia has urged Damascus to implement promised reforms as soon as possible. But there were no signs that the five so called "BRICS" nations would drop their opposition to Security Council action, despite the five-month-old crackdown by Syrian troops on protesters across the country.
Western diplomats say UN Deputy Political Affairs Chief Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told a closed-door Security Council session on August 10 that nearly 2,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since antigovernment protests began in March.
Fernandez-Taranco also was quoted as saying there has been no letup in the killing of protesters since last week when the Security Council called for an "immediate" halt to the violence.
In a bid to keep Syria high on the Security Council agenda, Western nations pressed for a new report next week that would include briefings from the top UN human rights and humanitarian officials.
Britain's deputy UN ambassador Philip Parham told reporters after the closed door session that Fernandez-Taranco's briefing had been "depressing and chilling."
"Just to remind you of the scale of what we are talking about -- some 2,000 civilians have now been killed, the vast majority of them unarmed. Some 3,000 civilians have forcibly disappeared. Some 13,000 remain detained," he said.
"Tens of thousands have fled their homes and their land in northern Syria in the face of the offensive. Several thousand Syrian refugees remain in Turkey. There is no access for the media, no access for humanitarian organizations."
Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, dismissed the European criticism of the crackdown, comparing the political protests in his country to this week's riots in Britain.
compiled from agency reports