'Appalled' Obama Vows to Isolate Assad's Regime

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was "appalled" by Syria's crackdown on Sunday which activists say killed nearly 140 people and vowed to step up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

In a statement, Obama saluted demonstrators who have taken to the streets as "courageous" and said Syria "will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward."

"I am appalled by the Syrian government's use of violence and brutality against its own people. The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime," Obama said.

Human rights groups said that Syrian forces killed nearly 140 people on Sunday -- including 100 when the army stormed the flashpoint city of Hama -- as Assad crushed dissent on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"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.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that Assad has lost legitimacy while stopping short of explicitly seeking to oust him. The United States and its allies are already busy with a military campaign against Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi along with commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Once again, President Assad has shown that he is completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people. His use of torture, corruption and terror puts him on the wrong side of history and his people," Obama said.

"Through his own actions, Bashar al-Assad is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past, and that the courageous Syrian people who have demonstrated in the streets will determine its future. Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward," Obama said.

A U.S. diplomat in Damascus told BBC World Service radio on Sunday 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.

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.

Source: Agence France Presse

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