Syria’s President al-Assad has acknowledged that his forces have made “some mistakes”, according to reports quoting diplomats who have visited Damascus.
Troops have been pulling out of Hama, their mission reportedly completed although residents have told tales of indiscriminate killing.
The city is one of several to have seen severe crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters. The president calls them terrorists and thugs and says his forces will continue to pursue them.
In recent days there has been widespread international condemnation of army operations in Hama and Deir al-Zour.
The US has expanded sanctions against Assad’s government and inner circle, targeting Syria’s largest commercial bank and its mobile phone operator.
Washington hopes that some Arab states’ growing condemnation will further isolate Syria’s leader.
At the UN where western counties have talked of increasing the pressure, Syria’s ambassador seemed to compare protesters to Britain’s rioters. If David Cameron used the term ‘gangs’, said Bashar Ja’afari, why couldn’t Syria use the same description for what he called ‘armed terrorists’ in his country.
Syria’s neighbour, Turkey, is confident that the pressure it is exerting will tell. The prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he expected Damascus to start reforms within a fortnight.
Turkey believes the Hama troop withdrawal is evidence of progress. But human rights observers say the army has killed more people elsewhere.