* Syrian tanks shell Hama, violence in other cities
* U.N. chief Ban says Security Council sends clear message
* Rights body details further army abuses
By Oliver Holmes and Crispian Balmer
BEIRUT, March 22 Clashes flared across Syria on
Thursday, opposition activists said, the day after the U.N.
Security Council had called on all sides to stop fighting and
seek a negotiated settlement to the year-long uprising.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Council's
unanimous statement had sent a clear message to Syria to end all
violence, but the appeal had little impact on the ground, where
rebels are seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Opposition sources said Syrian tanks had heavily shelled a
large neighbourhood in the city of Hama on Thursday after
fighting between Free Syrian Army rebels and pro-Assad forces.
The shelling destroyed houses in the Arbaeen neighbourhood
of northeast Hama, which has been at the forefront of the
revolt. Opposition sources said at least 20 people have died in
army attacks in the area in the last two days.
It is impossible to verify reports from Syria because the
authorities have denied access to independent journalists.
Syrian troops also attempted to storm the northern town of
Sermeen on Thursday, killing one man and wounding dozens, the
British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said,
quoting its network of contacts within Syria.
"Syrian forces are still not able to get inside the town
because of fighting but they are shelling Sermeen and using
heavy machine guns," said SOHR head Rami Abdelrahman.
Fighting was likewise reported in the central Hama province
and the southern city of Deraa, where several soldiers died in
an ambush, and loyalist forces conducted raids in the eastern
province of Deir al-Zor, he added.
The Security Council statement, which was supported by both
Russia and China, marking a rare moment of global unity over the
crisis, backed a peace drive by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi
Annan and warned of "further steps" if Syria failed to respond.
Annan's six-point peace proposal calls for a ceasefire,
political dialogue between the government and opposition, and
full access for aid agencies. It also says the army should stop
using heavy weapons in populated areas and pull troops back.
FIRING INTO LEBANON
While the U.N. statement, which lacks the legal force of a
resolution, talks of the need for political transition in Syria,
it does not demand that Assad to step down - something both the
rebels and the Arab League have called for.
"In clear and unmistakable terms, the Security Council
called for an immediate end to all violence and human rights
violations," U.N. chief Ban said in a speech in the Malaysian
capital Kuala Lumpur.
Syria's official news agency appeared to play down the
Council statement, saying it contained "no warnings or signals".
At least 8,000 people have died in the revolt, according to
U.N. figures issued a week ago, and diplomats have warned that
without a swift resolution, the conflict could spread and
degrade already tense sectarian relations across the region.
Underlining the dangers, several Syrian shells landed in the
Lebanese border village of al-Qaa and nearby fields late
Wednesday, wounding one person, after heavy artillery was heard
on the Syrian side of the frontier, residents said.
"More than five shells landed in the fields and in the
village," a farmer in al-Qaa told Reuters. Another resident said
one shell had detonated next to the main school.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) group said on Thursday Syrian
security forces were committing "serious abuses" in Qusair, a
city in the province of Homs, near the Lebanese border.
"Following their bloody siege of Homs, the Assad forces are
applying their same brutal methods in Qusair," said Sarah Leah
Whitson, the HRW Middle East director.
"Having seen the devastation inflicted on Homs, the Russian
government should stop arms sales to the Syrian government or
risk becoming further implicated in human rights violations."
Russia has defended its long-standing military ties with
Syria and has said it sees no reason to modify them.
Earlier this week, the New York-based HRW accused opposition
forces of committing rights abuses on government troops and
their militia allies, including torture and summary execution.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told Dutch
radio on Monday that 3,000 members of the security forces had
died in the uprising, which Damascus blames on terrorist gangs.
RUSSIA HEDGING BETS
Looking to pile pressure on Syria, the European Union is set
to impose further sanctions on Assad's inner circle on Friday,
including his wife Asma, who described herself as "the real
dictator" in an apparently genuine email published by Britain's
Guardian newspaper last week.
"Tomorrow we will decide on new sanctions, not only against
the Assad regime but also against the people around him," German
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Deutschlandfunk radio.
He added that the U.N. statement was an important
contribution to solving the crisis in Syria.
"Assad cannot depend on the protective hand of Russia in the
violence against his own people and that could accelerate the
process of erosion of the regime."
Although Russia has not budged from its main demand that
Assad must not be shunted from office by foreign powers, it has
adopted a much sterner tone this week, accusing the Syrian
leadership of mishandling the crisis.
Analysts say this change of tack is a sign Russia is hedging
its bets about Assad's fate and wants as strong a hand as
possible in shaping Syria's future should he fall.
"Russia will not be focused on keeping Assad in power for
the sake of keeping Assad in power," said Dmitry Trenin,
director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre think tank.