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Human Rights Activists Say Syrian Forces Kill 24


Military armored vehicles are seen in the central city of Hama, Syria, August 1, 2011

Military armored vehicles are seen in the central city of Hama, Syria, August 1, 2011

Human rights activists say Syrian forces have killed at least 24 civilians in attacks on several cities, as the U.N. Security Council met to discuss President Bashar al-Assad's increasingly brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The activists said some of the attacks Monday came as people protested following evening prayers on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

Watch raw video of security forces' attacks on anti-government protesters:

Residents in Hama said tanks resumed intense shelling of the city late Monday, and that troops fired machine guns at worshippers. Rights groups say at least 80 people were killed throughout Syria in attacks Sunday, including 52 in Hama and neighboring villages.

The U.N. Security Council is set to meet Tuesday to continue discussing a draft resolution condemning Syria's attacks against civilians.

The Council held an emergency, closed-door session Monday to discuss Assad's violent crackdown. European powers relaunched their dormant, U.S.-backed, draft resolution, but envoys disagreed over whether the 15-nation body should adopt the proposal or negotiate a less-binding statement.

Also Tuesday, Italy recalled its ambassador to Syria because of the "horrible repression of the civilian population."

The European Union has expanded sanctions against the Syrian government, imposing travel bans and asset freezes on five more officials. The officials include Syrian Defense Minister Ali Habib Mahmud, as well as the head of internal security and the intelligence chief in Hama.

British Foreign Minister William Hague said the new sanctions send a clear message that those responsible for repression will be held accountable.

The EU has now placed sanctions against more than 30 people, including Assad, in its effort to stop the government assault.

South Africa joined in the condemnations of violence, saying it was concerned about the high number of deaths and the potential humanitarian impact of the violence.

In Washington Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the violence and appealed to Council members who have resisted efforts to adopt a resolution denouncing the Assad government for its crackdown.

One of those countries, Russia, issued an unusual criticism of the Syrian government Monday, condemning "the use of force against peaceful protesters" and urging restraint. Turkey also sharply raised its public condemnation of Assad's government following the attacks on Hama.

The hardening reactions from Moscow and Ankara are potentially significant as Russia holds weight at the U.N. and Turkey is a regional power and important trade partner with Syria.

Clinton will meet U.S.-based Syrian political activists in Washington Tuesday, her first attempt to reach out to the expatriate opposition since anti-government protests began in March.

It is difficult to verify accounts of the unrest in Syria because the government has barred most foreign media from reporting and traveling freely in the country. Some estimates say as many as 140 died in the clashes Sunday.

Rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians during the crackdown. The government has blamed much of the violence on terrorists and militants who it says have killed hundreds of security personnel.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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