As reports of a brutal military crackdown on the flashpoint protest city of Hama unfurled on Sunday, Britain, Germany, France and Italy condemned the violence while a U.S. diplomat said it was "full-on warfare."
Syrian forces killed nearly 140 people on Sunday including 100 when the army stormed Hama to crush dissent on the eve of Ramadan, activists said.
Activists said it was one of deadliest days in Syria since demonstrators first took to the streets on March 15 demanding democratic reforms before turning their wrath on the regime and calling for its ouster.
Western powers denounced the violence amid warnings from Berlin and Paris of fresh sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"If President Assad fails to change course, we and our partners in the EU will impose new sanctions," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
A French foreign ministry statement said: "Syrian political, military and security leaders must know, now more than ever, that they will have to answer for their deeds."
"The continuing of the repression and atrocities against civilians is particularly unacceptable on the eve of the month of Ramadan and can only lead to more instability and violence across the country," it added.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "appalled" by the storming of Hama and urged Assad to rein in his troops.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the Hama crackdown "the latest horrible act of violent repression against protesters."
A U.S. diplomat in Damascus told BBC World Service radio that the crackdown on Hama amounted to "full-on warfare" and a final act of desperation.
"There is one big armed gang in Syria, and it's named the Syrian government," said JJ Harder, the press attache at the American embassy in Damascus.
"That's the armed gang that is pillaging its own cities, that's the armed gang that is striking terror into the hearts of a lot of these people who are out there who just want to peacefully protest."
Harder also described the "disparate groups" who currently made up the Syrian government, and said U.S. officials were never quite sure who was in charge.
"The government is not exactly a cohesive, coherent unit but rather a group of disparate groups within the government itself," he said.
"We don't know who we are talking to half the time, we don't know who speaks for the government.
"On one hand you have a purported reform movement ... and then you have warfare, then you have full-on attacks of Hama and Deir Ezzor (in the east), it just doesn't make any sense."
The official SANA news agency meanwhile charged that gunmen shot dead two security forces in Hama while 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 soldiers tore down barricades and checkpoints set up by the armed men at the city's entrance.
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 a record 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 Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
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