DAMASCUS, Aug 1, 2011 (AFP) - There were calls for an emergency UN Security Council session on Monday after Syrian security forces killed nearly 140 people in one of the deadliest days of more than four months of anti-regime protests.
An image grab from a video uploaded on YouTube shows a Syrian army tank driving past burning tires in the city of Hama on July 31, 2011. AFP PHOTO/YOU TUBE
Rights activists said Sunday's death toll included at least 100 when the army stormed the flashpoint protest city of Hama, scene of a 1982 Islamist revolt that was put down by deadly force, killing an estimated 20,000 people.
"It is one of the deadliest days" since the protests erupted on March 15, said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Activists said at least 136 people were killed across Syria and expected the toll to rise as scores were wounded.
US President Barack Obama and European leaders condemned the pre-Ramadan crackdown as Germany and Italy called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council.
A meeting could be held later on Monday, but such a move could reopen bitter divisions within the Security Council, which has not yet been able to agree even on a statement on President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown against 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 -- which are angry at the NATO bombing campaign in Libya -- have refused to support the move. Russia and China have threatened to veto any formal resolution against Assad.
Obama said he was "appalled by the Syrian government's use of violence and brutality against its own people" and paid tribute to the "courageous" demonstrators who have taken to the streets.
"In the days ahead, the United States will continue to increase our pressure on the Syrian regime, and work with others around the world to isolate the Assad government and stand with the Syrian people," Obama said.
A US diplomat in Damascus told the BBC that the violence in Hama amounted to "full-on warfare" and an act of desperation.
"There is one big armed gang in Syria, and it's named the Syrian government," said JJ Harder, press attache at the American embassy in Damascus.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the action by Assad, who has been refusing to take the UN leader's calls for several weeks, his spokesman said.
Syria's neighbour Turkey said it was "deeply saddened and disappointed... by the current developments on the eve of holy month of Ramadan".
Abdel Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, said: "One hundred civilians were killed on Sunday in Hama by gunfire from security forces who accompanied the army as it stormed the city."
The head of the National Organisation for Human Rights, Ammar Qorabi, put the Hama death toll at 95, while Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 47 people were killed there.
"The number of those wounded is huge and hospitals cannot cope, particularly because we lack the adequate equipment," Abdel Rahman added, quoting a Hama hospital official.
He said the Hama crackdown came after more than 500,000 people rallied on Friday after Muslim prayers during which a cleric told worshippers "the regime must go."
Activists also reported deaths in Deir Ezzor, Syria's main gas- and oil-production hub in the east, which has become a rallying point for protests along with Hama.
At least 19 people were killed in Deir Ezzor, six in Herak in the south, and one in Al-Bukamal in the east, said Qorabi, adding most of those shot in Deir Ezzor were "hit in the head and the neck" by snipers.
Abdel Rahman meanwhile told AFP protesters set ablaze 24 army troop carriers in the Masrib region west of Deir Ezzor.
"They threw Molotov cocktails on a military convoy to stop it from advancing on Deir Ezzor and set ablaze 24 troop carriers," he said.
The official SANA news agency charged gunmen shot dead two security forces in Hama and that a colonel and two soldiers were "martyred" in Deir Ezzor.
SANA said the gunmen torched police stations and attacked private and public property in Hama, adding that soldiers tore down barricades and checkpoints set up by the armed men.
In 1982, an estimated 20,000 people were killed in Hama when the army put down an Islamist revolt against the rule of Assad's late father, Hafez.
The president replaced the governor of Hama after 500,000 protesters rallied in the opposition bastion on July 1 calling for the fall of the regime.
At least 1,583 civilians and 369 members of the army and security forces have been killed since mid-March in Syria, according to the Observatory.