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via BBC News

Syrian tanks have stormed the northern city of Hama, killing at least 45 civilians, a leading rights group says.

Residents reported heavy shelling and warned that hospitals were overflowing with the dead and wounded.

The government said that “armed groups” had burnt police stations and vandalised property. Gunmen killed two Syrian soldiers, it added.

US officials have described the events as “full-on warfare” by the Syrian government against its own people.

The assault was a last act of utter desperation by the Syrian government, JJ Harder, press attache at the American embassy in Damascus told the BBC.

With this latest assault, the authorities are sending a clear message that they will not tolerate large-scale unrest ahead of the month of Ramadan, when protests are expected to grow, says the BBC’s Lina Sinjab in the capital Damascus.

But our correspondent says the people of Hama remain defiant, with some still out in streets shouting: “We will not be killed again,” a reference to the 1982 massacre which left tens of thousands dead after President Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, sent in troops to quell an Islamist uprising there.

The recent protests – calling for widespread democratic reforms and political freedoms – show no sign of letting up despite a government crackdown that has brought international condemnation and sanctions.

Activists say more than 1,500 civilians and 350 security personnel have been killed across Syria since protests began in mid-March.

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