Syrian forces continued their siege on the city of Hama on Thursday, reportedly killing 45 people and sending thousands fleeing. Power and communications were shut off as tanks advanced into the central Orontes Square, the epicenter of the protests in Hama, and snipers were dispatched along the rooftops. Syrian officials say the assault was meant to confront armed groups in the city, and that at least eight soldiers have been killed. Meanwhile, President Assad formally approved laws allowing other political parties to form and regulating elections to parliament—the latest in a series of reforms carried out by Assad even as he continues to order a violent crackdown that has so far killed at least 1,700 people. The UN Security Council condemned Syria’s use of force, and issued a document demanding that Syrian authorities respect human rights and international law.